At a glance, fireworks are a beautiful and sparkling sign of summer, especially during Memorial Day and 4th of July celebrations. But when done incorrectly — ya know, like in your backyard — they can be extremely dangerous. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 9,100 fireworks-related injuries and five deaths in 2018 alone — and on average, 180 people go to the emergency room every day for a related injury during July. Let it be known that fireworks, sparklers, and bottle rockets are equally as dangerous, especially for children: Kids under the age of 15 accounted for 36% of the fireworks-related injuries in 2018.
The main issue at hand, of course, is that fireworks can cause serious burns (44% of reported injuries) and eye injuries (19% of reported injuries). Hands, fingers, and legs are the most susceptible to burns, and severe eye injuries include corneal abrasions and retinal detachment.
And while these injuries are enough to scare you (and rightly so), they’re totally preventable. The easiest — and recommended — way to avoid injuries is to let the professionals handle any (and all) fireworks displays. But if lighting a few sparklers or fireworks in your backyard is a holiday tradition you can’t pass up, follow these expert-approved fireworks safety tips.
Adhere to the laws.
The federal government, under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, bans the sale of the most dangerous types of fireworks such as “reloadable mortar shells, cherry bombs, aerial bombs, M-80 salutes, and larger firecrackers containing more than two grains of powder.” Many state and local governments prohibit the use of consumer fireworks, “class C fireworks,” so brush up on your local laws before you purchase or light fireworks.
Consumer fireworks permitted by most (not all) states, include shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets, sparklers, firecrackers with no more than 50 milligrams of powder, and novelty items, such as snakes, airplanes, ground spinners, helicopters, fountains, and party poppers.
CLICK HERE TO READ YOUR LOCAL LAWS
Keep water nearby.
Soak malfunctioning fireworks or extinguished sparklers with water to prevent any further fire. In case of emergency, Executive Director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-Paramedic, recommends keeping “a hose and bucket of water” within reach at all times.
Light fireworks the right way.
While matches and lighters may be the most common fire source, Roszak notes that the “flame is erratic, susceptible to the wind, and harder to control.” To keep things under control at a safe distance, light fireworks with a punk—a.k.a. a special type of smoldering stick. Fireworks should be lighted one at a time, one person at a time.
Steer clear of any failed fireworks.
When in doubt, treat all fireworks as if they’re active. Sometimes a firework may have a delayed reaction, which can cause serious harm if you handle it before it goes off. “If a firework fails to detonate, stay away from it for at least five minutes. If five minutes passes and nothing happens, then soak the firework with water,” Roszak recommends.
Set off fireworks in an open, clear area.
Before lighting fireworks, make sure that you’re in an open area away from houses, trees, dry leaves, grass, or other flammable materials.
Never try to re-light fireworks.
Along those same lines, never re-light a “dud firework.” Simply soak them in water and safely throw them away.
Never lean your body over a firework when lighting.
Use a punk to light the fuse at a safe distance. Never place any part of your body directly over the fuse, and back up immediately after lighting fireworks for extra caution. Opt for fitted clothing and closed-toed shoes to ward off accidental burns.
Supervise any children handling sparklers.
While you may think sparklers are safe enough for kids, they actually burn at temperatures nearing 2,000°F. Along with being hot enough to burn most metals, they can also cause serious harm if handled incorrectly. Any child under the age of 12 must have parent supervision at all times to prevent any fires or injuries. Don’t let children (or anyone, for that matter) run with or throw a lit sparkler.
More sparklers-specific tips, as outlined by the American Pyrotechnics Association:
- Never light or hold more than one sparkler at a time.
- Always keep sparklers an arm’s length away.
- Stand at least six feet from others when sparkler is lit.
- Don’t wear loose-fitting clothes or open-toed shoes.
- Douse used sparklers in a bucket of water, and dispose sticks once cool.
Wear protective eyewear.
Fireworks-related eye injuries are typically a mix of blunt force trauma, heat burns, and chemical exposure. While bystanders are more likely to be injured than the person setting off the firework, it’s a smart idea for anyone handling the fireworks — bottle rockets, especially — to wear protective googles, as outlined by the American National Standards Institute.
If injured, get medical attention immediately.
On the rare occasion that you or someone you know is injured by fireworks, seek medical help ASAP. Make sure to not apply any ointments to burns, or take any pain medications while you wait for assistance.
If you experience an eye injury, be sure to follow the guidelines by the American Academy of Ophthalmology:
- Do not rub eyes.
- Do not rinse eyes.
- Do not apply pressure.
- Do not remove any objects that are stuck in the eye.
- Do not apply ointments or take any blood-thinning pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen unless directed by a doctor.
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