Many Americans celebrate Independence Day by coming together for events like barbecues, pool parties and picnics, but when the sun sets on July 4, the nation’s sky illuminates with the light of fireworks.
Both the watching and shooting off of fireworks on Independence Day are part of American tradition, but “the thrill of fireworks can also bring pain,” according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. According to CPSC, an average of 230 people a day visit an emergency room with “fireworks-related injuries” in the month around the Fourth of July. Some of the most commonly injured body parts when dealing with fireworks have been noted by CPSC as hands, eyes and heads.
The number of fireworks-related visits to the emergency room are relatively low in comparison to how many people are actually out celebrating with fireworks in Manhattan, Larry Couchman, director of emergency and EMS services for Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, said.
“Fortunately, it’s not a high percent of patients,” Couchman said. “It’s single digits, generally, in a four or five day counting period, and most of the injuries are usually minor.”
The City of Manhattan’s fireworks regulations state “discharge is allowed 8 a.m. to midnight July 1 through July 4. Sales are allowed starting July 1 at noon through midnight July 4.”
Brandon Ratdloff, owner of the local firework stand Celebration Fireworks, said he always encourages customers to follow guidelines stated on the packages of fireworks they purchase.
“Try to use them as they’re intended to be used,” Ratdloff said. “No misuse, and you’ll end up being pretty much injury-free. The vast majority of injuries come from misuse of fireworks.”
In most cases, Couchman said, patients who come to the emergency room with injuries due to fireworks have modified or misused fireworks in some way.
“If the label says not to handle the firework or hold it, don’t hold it because there is a potential risk that it will explode,” Couchman said. “It’s usually the mishandling of fireworks we see, so we see that burn injuries are probably the most common, and then injuries from explosiveness would be another common one.”
Coachman explained that another fireworks safety issue is that people attempt to relight “duds,” or seemingly defective fireworks.
“The number one thing not to do is to attempt to relight a dud, or a firework that isn’t going off as you think it might,” Couchman said. “Please do not attempt to relight a firework that you feel like is not going off. Just leave it be for a time, and then carefully approach it and dump water on it or stomp it — anything to make sure it’s a safe firework.”
Another component of fireworks safety, Ratdloff said, is usage by age. Smaller products, such as snappers, party poppers and sparklers, are generally safe for younger children to use with supervision. Extra precautions, such as keeping a bowl of water on hand to put out and cool off things like sparklers can help prevent burns if children go to touch used fireworks, Ratdloff said.
“I would recommend anything larger be handled probably by someone 16 years old or older,” Ratdloff said. “There is no minimum age that I’m aware of for actually purchasing bigger fireworks, but we’d like you to be 13 or 14 at least, or we probably wouldn’t let you buy something that looked like a reloadable mortar or something like that that’s going to be real powerful and could cause injuries.”
Ratdloff said he recommends not firing arial fireworks under trees, in particularly dry areas or near an audience, due to the possibility of falling debris or the product tipping over.
Chris White, Manhattan resident, said while she and her family like to have fun with fireworks on July 4, they are sure to always have adults around when younger people and children are lighting off fireworks.
“We are just really big on adult supervision, not handling fireworks and making sure we keep our distance,” White said. “We try to enjoy the beauty of our fireworks, yet respect the potential for danger.”