A few neighborhood parents announced it was dark enough to start setting off the fireworks. Children quickly came running up to get their sparklers and see what other fireworks were going to be set off. The teenagers had already started throwing poppers, launching bottle rockets and lighting roman candles. The neighborhood was ablaze with color and loud noise. Disappointingly, one of the fireworks failed to explode. When a teen picked it up to see if it was a dud, it went off in his hand. The resulting burn required the teen to go to the hospital where he lost part of two fingers.
After the past few months of stay at home orders, people are more than ready to get out and enjoy themselves. The sales of residential fireworks has more than doubled from last year and many firework stands have run out of inventory. All of these fireworks are being used in neighborhoods beyond the 4th of July and has sparked an upsurge in complaints. It has also led to an increase in injuries from firework related accidents.
In 2019, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 10,000 fireworks-related injuries that required being seen in the emergency room. Seventy-three percent of those injuries happened from the end of June to the end of July, which is close to 180 people every day. Nearly half of those injured were under the age of 20 years old and 36% of overall injuries occurred in children younger than 15 years old. Injuries tend to occur most often to the hands, fingers, and legs. Fifty-seven percent of injuries involved burns. These statistics likely underestimate the true number of children and teenagers being injured as many with less severe injuries are treated at home.
Given the dangers inherent in fireworks, it is important for parents to model their appropriate use. This starts with never allowing children under the age of five years old to handle fireworks. This includes sparklers, which seem benign but are dangerous. They burn at 2000 degrees and can quickly ignite clothing or burn feet when they are dropped. Sparklers account for a quarter of emergency room visits and nearly half of all firework related injuries in children under the age of five. Safer alternatives are to use glow sticks, confetti poppers, or colored streamers. Parents and other adults should closely supervise older children who are using fireworks. It is safest for those who are nearby fireworks to wear protective eyewear as 15% of injuries are to the eyes.
Teenagers can be more difficult to supervise and there is a thrill to setting off fireworks. Parents should spend some time reviewing fireworks safety for all teens who will be using fireworks. A sample of some safety measures include not holding lighted fireworks in their hands, never pointing them at others, only using fireworks away from others, not trying to reignite or handle a malfunctioning firework, and keeping a bucket of water nearby to extinguish any fire. If parents suspect their teens will not be safe in handling fireworks, it is best not to give them any from the start.
Due to the brisk sales of fireworks this year, it is likely that injuries will increase. Parents can reduce the chances their children and teens will be impacted by being preventative. Do not give young children any fireworks, including sparklers. Closely supervise older children and preach fireworks safety to teenagers. The 4th of July is a time to celebrate our nation's independence. It does not need to be spent in an emergency room.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).