The Fourth of July is a fun time for cooking out, celebrating with family, and watching fireworks. Unfortunately, it also may increase your risk for a trip to the hospital.
Michelle Fontana, MSN, director of Trauma and Burn Services at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, says fireworks injuries can be devastating.
“Every year, we admit 10 to 12 people with serious injuries from fireworks,” she says. “Those injuries often involve loss of a finger, hand, or eye.”
Many more people have fireworks burns that need treatment but not an overnight stay. “It peaks during the last week of June and early July,” says Fontana. “But we see fireworks injuries all summer.”
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A fireworks celebration is as American as apple pie — but can be more dangerous. For instance:
- Fireworks can cause permanent injury and disfigurement to your eyes, hands, and face.
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that emergency departments saw about 10,000 fireworks injuries in 2019. Fireworks celebrations at home due to COVID-19 may have pushed that number even higher last year.
- Sparklers can reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the American Burn Association. That’s hotter than a blow torch.
- More than half of fireworks injuries in the U.S. happen to people under age 20.
- People who’ve suffered burns may need months or years to heal physically and emotionally.
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Fireworks Do’s and Don’ts
So what’s the most important message about fireworks?
“Leave them to the professionals,” says Fontana. “At the very least, stay away from the most high-powered ones. They are explosives and you should treat them as such.”
If you choose to include fireworks at your July 4th party, keep the following safety tips in mind.
- Store fireworks where children can’t reach them.
- Keep a bucket of water nearby. You can use it to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire.
- Model good behavior. Teach children that fireworks are explosives and only adults should handle them.
- Only light one firework at a time.
- Keep children and other adults a safe distance from any areas where fireworks are going off.
- Wear protective eyewear when lighting fireworks.
- Re-light a firework.
- Approach a firework that’s smoldering.
- Drink alcohol when using fireworks.
- Pick up a firework from the ground.
- Hold onto a firework once you light it.
- Point or throw lit fireworks at anyone.
- Try to modify fireworks.
- Allow young children to handle fireworks, including sparklers.
- Light fireworks indoors, near houses, or next to flammable materials.
- Light fireworks in a container.
- Try to make your own fireworks.
The good news is that fireworks injuries are 100% preventable, says Fontana. Consider these activities instead of setting off fireworks in your back yard.
- Go to community fireworks celebrations. You can watch safely from a distance and enjoy a fantastic show.
- Use glow sticks instead of sparklers. “Parents wouldn’t hand a child a lighted match, yet they give them sparklers, which burn very hot,” says Fontana. “A child will have the same fun with a glow stick.”
- Replace fireworks with confetti poppers or colored streamers.
- Focus on other parts of the celebration, such as food and games.
If You’re Burned by Fireworks
If you or a loved one get burned by fireworks, you need to act fast.
- Remove clothing and jewelry from the burned area.
- Run the burned area under cool (not cold) water for a few minutes to stop the burn.
- Never put ice on a burn.
- Never use mayonnaise or butter on a burn.
- Wrap the injury with a clean, dry towel.
When to seek emergency medical treatment
Partial thickness burns (previously called second degree burns) or full thickness burns (previously called third degree burns) need immediate medical treatment.
Some partial thickness burns appear wet or blistering. Others appear deep cherry red.
Full thickness burns appear white or charred. These burns might not even be painful, as nerves may have been damaged.
Always call 911 for large burns or if you are involved in an explosion. Seek the care of a doctor or go to the emergency department if:
- The burn has blistered. (Don’t break the blisters.)
- The burn looks deep red or has blotchy patches.
- The burn looks charred around the edges.
- The burned area is bigger than 1% of the victim’s body (approximately the size of their palm) or if it appears to be full thickness.
- You have an ember in your eye or experience vision changes.
- Fireworks exploded on any body part or caused an injury.
American Burn Association, Leave the Show to the Pros, Link
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2018 Fireworks Annual Report, Link
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2019 Fireworks Annual Report, Link
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Hospital Emergency Room Treatment for Some Product-Related Injuries Rose During the Pandemic Even as Overall ER Visits Dropped, Link
UPMC, Fireworks & Summer Burn Safety in the Time of the Pandemic, Link
UPMC, Best to Leave Fireworks to the Experts, Link
UPMC, UPMC Mercy Burn Center Stresses Summertime and Fireworks Safety at News Conference, Link
UPMC, Fourth of July Burn Prevention and Information Tip Sheet, Link
Michelle Fontana, MSN, RN, CCRN
Director, Trauma and Burn Services
Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or the beat of the heart. And when they do, seconds matter. UPMC’s emergency and trauma care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our emergency departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care, including Level 1 trauma centers at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy, a Level 1 pediatric trauma center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a Level 2 trauma center at UPMC Hamot, and a trauma center at UPMC Altoona.