CATES: Celebrate safely today for the Fourth

By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN

Chief Nursing Officer

Odessa Regional Medical Center

One of the best memories I have as a kid is going to watch the fireworks at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. My parents would pack a cooler of sodas and snacks that we were only allowed to have on that day, and we would go sit on the grass overlooking the Puget Sound to picnic at sunset and watch the fireworks after dark. The fireworks were launched from big barges out in the Sound, and they would reflect off the water, making it just a spectacular display. Point Defiance is really close to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, so they would close the bridge to traffic that night and you could walk onto the bridge and watch the fireworks from there too. Before sunset, the fireboats would send up huge plumes of water colored red, white, and blue. I still love firework displays, even as an adult. They are so different here in our wide-open spaces than they were for me as a kid in Washington, but I find them just as spectacular. Here you can see them all the way to the horizon—and because our skies are dark, the colors are amazing too. Having said that, some of my worst memories come from seeing injuries that resulted from improper handling of fireworks. If you decide to make fireworks at home part of your 4th of July celebrations, please handle them safely.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC), 18 people died in 2020 related to non-occupational firework use, between 2005 and 2019, the average was 8.5 people per year. Injuries were also up significantly averaging about 700/year before 2019, up t0 10,000 in 2019 and 15,600 in 2020. Hand and finger injuries account for 30% of body parts injured, followed by the head, face, and ears at 22% and eyes at 15%. Burns are the most common type of injury, accounting for 44% of all injuries. That National Safety Council (NSC) stated that 50% of injuries happened in people under age 20. Most injuries were related to illegal fireworks, but about 10% are related to “small” devices like firecrackers and sparklers.

Out here in West Texas with our dry climate, another serious concern with fireworks is fires. Fireworks start 18,500 fires in the US each year. 1,300 of those are house fires, 74% of firework related deaths are also related to house fires. Brush, grass, or forest fires account for 59% of firework related fires. More than 25% of all firework related fires happen on July 4th.

If you do decide to add fireworks to your celebrations this year, please remember to be safe with their handling. Use only legal fireworks in spaces where it is legal to use them. Be cautious of fireworks packaged in plan brown paper, that is a sign those fireworks were made for professional use, not home use. Pay attention to burn bans. Don’t use fireworks if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol. Wear protective eyewear. Never hold a lit firework in your hand, never light them indoors. Never point or throw a firework at another person. Don’t relight or handle a malfunctioning firework. Keep a bucket of water nearby. This can be used to extinguish any inadvertent fires, and it’s also a good place to dispose of fireworks when you are done with your celebrations to ensure they are fully extinguished before putting in the trash.

Don’t allow young children to handle fireworks, older children need to have adult supervision. It is so easy to think of things like sparklers as “safe” because they don’t explode, but sparklers burn at a terrifying 2000 degrees. Just to give you some perspective, copper and gold melt at about 1900 degrees. Sparklers account for nearly half of the injuries to children under age 5. Safe alternatives for small children are glow sticks, confetti poppers, bubbles, and colored streamers.

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand adds the following guidelines when attending public firework displays. Obey safety barriers and ushers, stay a minimum of 500 feet from the launching site, and resist the temptation to pick up firework debris when the display is over. Some debris can still be live and explode. It can also be very hot and cause burns.

As part of your celebrations, please say thank you to our armed forces and veterans and their families, we would not be able to celebrate our independence without them. Have a safe and Happy 4th of July.