Fireworks are an American tradition around the Fourth of July, but a dazzling display can quickly turn into a disaster. An estimated 11,400 people sustained injuries due to fireworks in 2013, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Dale Downs knows the risk of fireworks all too well. On July 4, 2012, Downs was participating in his family’s fireworks display at their lake in Central Indiana, a tradition they had upheld for more than 30 years. Downs hadn’t intended on participating in the display that year, but the family asked him to help out.
Downs was working on setting up one part of the display while family members set up other fireworks. As Downs held several large fireworks in his hands, a part of the display malfunctioned. Fireworks went off, in turn igniting the devices that Downs was holding. The fireworks fell to his feet and exploded, burning him on 8 percent of his body, from his knees downward.
“Looking back, I realize now how dangerous it is,” Downs says. “A lot of people take that for granted. They assume [the firework] is going to go up [into the sky], but it doesn’t always.”
Downs also wasn’t expecting or prepared to light fireworks that day. He was wearing shorts, which exposed his skin directly to the fireworks explosion. The accident required him to spend 12 days in the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center at Eskenazi Health.
“Something like that changes your life. It’s still hard to talk about,” Downs says. “I thank God every day that I was so fortunate [that something worse didn’t happen].”
Physicians in the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center at Eskenazi Health urge consumers not to light their own fireworks this Fourth of July.
“No fireworks are truly safe for people to light themselves at home. Even fireworks that may seem harmless have potential to cause serious injury,” said Dr. Rajiv Sood, medical director of the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center and division chief and professor of plastic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “Avoidance is the best medicine when it comes to fireworks. Almost 30 to 40 percent of the burns we see are preventable with the appropriate education.”
Firework injuries are often a result of playing with the devices or lighting them while holding them. Injuries can also occur when fireworks malfunction or don’t work as expected. The parts of the body where these injuries occur most often include the hands, face and eyes.
If you do decide to light fireworks at home, exercise extreme caution, and be sure to follow these precautions:
- Never allow children to light or play with fireworks.
- Avoid buying fireworks in brown paper packaging, which is a sign they are made for professional displays.
- Light fireworks one at a time, then move away quickly.
- If you are lighting fireworks, avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch fire.
- Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of fire.
- Never try to relight a burned out or “dud” firework. Soak it in water, and throw it away.
- Never take fireworks apart or modify them in any way.
If clothing catches on fire, the best way to put out the fire is to “stop, drop and roll.” If you sustain a burn, immediately remove any clothing or jewelry from the burned area. Stop the burning process by cooling the area with cool (not cold) water, and cover the area with a dry, loose bandage or sheet. Seek medical attention immediately. If injuries are severe or a fire has started, call 911 immediately.
For more information on burn prevention, please call the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center’s burn prevention hotline at 1.866.339.BURN.