The Fourth of July is a time to enjoy being around family, friends, and of course, fireworks. The last thing you want is to start an annual Independence Day ambulance ride, because something goes wrong with a sparkler. Take a moment to prepare for some of the most common fireworks injuries, and you’ll feel more American than ever before!
First, Know Your Community’s Fireworks Laws
To start, understand your state, county, and local city or village fire laws. Usually, you can find these regulations on your local government’s official web site. Your local fire department’s non-emergency dispatchers are also prepared to provide them. Being slapped with a fine for setting off roman candles in your backyard is a real buzzkill.
Regardless of actual ordinances, you want to avoid burning anything in dry areas.
Prevent Basic Fireworks Injuries
There’s no better neighbor than a prepared one. The best type of care for the danger of fireworks injuries is preventative, and these few steps can ensure a safe, rewarding celebration.
Keep a water source nearby, in case a firework sparks a small fire. Know exactly where and how you can access this water — don’t count on being able to open a fire hydrant yourself.
Wear eye protection when lighting fireworks. Goggles can mean the difference between having a fun night and everyone’s flashlight apps searching for an eyeball in the grass from fireworks injuries.
Never light a fuse with your head bent over the fireworks ordinance. Keep the fuse at an arm’s length away.
#4. Stable & Safe
Establish a safe, flat platform where you can light fireworks. Then assign a viewing area for your family and friends that’s at least 500 feet away from any lit fireworks.
#5. Don’t Become a Dud
If a firework doesn’t ignite, don’t approach it immediately. Give it 2-3 minutes time in case it’s running late. Then douse the dud with water from a hose to avoid any delayed explosion.
#6. Be Ready, Expect ‘Minor’ Burns
Any minor injury can understandably get your blood pumping. But be ready to pull from your fireworks safety preparation. It will result in a better outcome than running in circles and screaming.
First degree burns are the most common injury among nonprofessionals. This type of burn affects only the outer layer of skin. You may see redness, peeling skin, or skin that is painful to the touch for 48 to 72 hours.
Avoid placing ice directly on the affected area and do not treat the burn with any loose-threaded materials (i.e. cotton balls, woven gauze). Ice can further damage the already damaged skin, and pieces from cotton balls or gauze can get stuck in the wound and become infected. Instead, gently place the burned area in a bowl of cool water for up to 5 minutes, or more if directed by a medical professional. Then, cover the area loosely with a sterile, non-stick bandage and check in with a doctor or nurse at your next opportunity.
You can give over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen or naproxen to help ease the sting and reduce inflammation.
The 5 Injuries Seen in Emergency Rooms on the 4th of July
(and quick first aid responses)
If one of these serious injuries does occur when working with fireworks, remember that you’re not alone. Contact 911 for immediate assistance from fire and medical professionals. The first aid tips below should only be used for informational purposes and to help stabilize someone.
#1. Major Burns
We discussed more minor burns above, but if you see blisters where the burn is, it has officially graduated to a second-degree burn. While they may be painful for longer and take longer to heal, you can generally treat them like you do a minor or first-degree burn.
If the burn changes the skin’s texture to raised, leathery or waxy, or changes color to white or dark brown, it may be a serious third-degree burn. Call 911 immediately without trying to treat it yourself. Raise the injured area above the heart, if possible, and gently remove any clothes and jewelry near the burn, unless they’re stuck to the burn.
For more detailed descriptions of what constitutes certain burns, see this quick comparison.
Lacerations or cuts are the next most probable of fireworks injuries around the 4th of July. They are commonly seen when people are too close to bursting bottle rockets and other exploding fireworks. Hands, fingers, any body part that might be near a fireworks fuse, and heads, in particular, may be lacerated.
Apply direct pressure to the affected area to control any bleeding. If bleeding doesn’t stop after 10-15 minutes, contact medical professionals. Otherwise, gently clean the area with a mix of warm water and non-harsh soap. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, as they can dry and damage the damaged skin. An antibiotic ointment can be applied and then cover the area loosely with a sterile bandage.
#3. Eye Injuries
Eye injuries are especially difficult to treat on your own. If minor fireworks or environmental debris gets in the eye, you can gently rinse the eye using sterile saline solution or, if necessary, clean water.
Cringe warning: In 3, 2, 1…
Fireworks can cause materials to get lodged in the eye, beyond what can be simply rinsed out. Or worse, cause a laceration to the different layers in the eye. Your eyesight is important, so don’t chance it. Call 911 for immediate help.
#4. Facial Injuries
Back in 2015, a Cleveland man was in intensive care (ICU) for over a week after fireworks exploded as he was lighting them, causing 265 fractures to his face. While this case is severe, you should always be aware of the risks of fireworks injuries that self-lit fireworks bring.
Experiencing a facial injury that causes severe pain, or includes a combination of a burn and a laceration, demands medical attention. Call 911. As you wait for help, place a clean cloth over the injury and gently apply an ice pack to help with swelling and pain. If it hurts to do so, skip the ice. Avoid any loose-threaded cloths.
#5. Hearing Loss
Remember that fireworks professionals wear several layers of ear protection. Experts suggest wearing a pair of ear plugs, as well as over-the-ear headphones. When possible, remain 500 feet away from the fireworks, as we discussed earlier. If a firework explodes too close, without proper ear protection, damage can occur to the sensitive hairs in the ears or even the eardrum.
We’ve all felt a little temporary earache or heard some ringing after a great fireworks show. If you continue to hear ringing in your ears for more than a few hours, or if you can’t hear at all in one or both ears, see a doctor immediately.