Nothing says American summer much like a backyard barbeque complete with sparklers and an awe-inspiring fireworks display after dark. The tradition of fireworks to celebrate Independence Day each summer dates as far back as the country itself. In July 1776, Founding Father John Adams declared the day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward and beyond.”
While a time-honored tradition and indisputably majestic, fireworks also cause more than 10,000 ER visits each year — leading to a dozen reported deaths in 2019. “It is vitally important for fireworks enthusiasts — and especially those who use sparklers and fireworks at home—to be aware of safety protocols and the proper way to handle and dispose of fire-related celebrations,” explains Lily Daniali, MD, a reconstructive surgeon at the Burn and Reconstructive Center at Swedish Medical Center. “Most often, we treat severe burns on the hands and legs caused by improper or dangerous use of these items. In many cases, these injuries could have been avoided with proper usage.”
Choose Your Fireworks Carefully
Enjoying a professional fireworks celebration from a safe distance always is the preferred choice of medical experts, but the reality is that thousands of people purchase fireworks each summer for use at home. Dr. Daniali implores those who choose to purchase fireworks for at-home use to first learn what is and isn’t legal in your unique municipality. “Many counties and cities in Colorado are under fire restrictions during the summer months due to drought,” Dr. Daniali explains. “Check with your local government close to the time you plan to purchase your fireworks. They will detail any restrictions as well as what types of fireworks are permissible.” Dr. Daniali also encourages fireworks enthusiasts to purchase only from a reputable source and to never create homemade or modified fireworks.
Choose Your Location Carefully
Once you have secured legal fireworks from a trustworthy business, it’s important to choose a safe environment for your celebration. Be sure to select a smooth, flat surface without highly flammable items close by (i.e., dry leaves, grasses or structures). Choose a time when the winds are mild and always keep a large bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby. Dr. Daniali also recommends securing a perimeter, “A safety perimeter of 35 feet is recommended for ground pyrotechnics and 150 feet is recommended for aerial explosives.”
Choose Your Operator Carefully
While fireworks often are ignited late in the night after drinks have been flowing, it is important that those who operate the explosives are completely sober. “Using alcohol or other substances only enhances your risk of getting seriously injured by fireworks. Those who prepare, light and dispose of fireworks should be adults who are free and clear of intoxication of any kind,” Dr. Daniali says. “We also strongly encourage you to simply leave the big stuff to the professionals! Those operators have extensive training as well as procedures in place to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of spectators. They are experienced in wow-ing you and your loved ones, and you can just sit back and relax!”
A Special Note about Sparklers
Sparklers are hand-held fireworks that burn slowly and put off colored flames and sparks. Traditionally, sparklers are deemed safe enough for children to manage, but it is important to be extremely cautious while enjoying the effects. Sparklers are the No. 1 cause of fireworks-related injuries and children ages 0-4 are the most likely to be injured. Limit sparkler-use to children school-age and older and always closely supervise children under the age of 16. Teach children to never run, throw or hand a lit sparkler to anyone else and to always keep sparklers an arm’s length away from the body.
Dispose of Fireworks Properly
All fireworks should be disposed of properly by completely submerging the items in a bucket of water and allowing them to soak overnight. The next day, double-wrap fireworks in plastic so they do not dry out and reignite during disposal. The wrapped fireworks then can be placed in regular garbage.
“Following safety advice and using common sense goes a long way to prevent burns and other injuries related to fireworks celebrations,” Dr. Daniali says. “Be smart — protect yourself and those around you for a safe, beautiful celebration the founding fathers would admire!”