by Ryan Ngiam, MD
Every Independence Day, about 7,500 Americans suffer injuries or fatalities from fireworks. Most of these victims are children under the age of 15. Many of these casualties are innocent bystanders, who just happened to “get in the way.”
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and fire departments highly recommend attending one of the many professional public fireworks displays available in our area instead of purchasing home fireworks.
If you choose to purchase and use home fireworks, purchase only from fireworks stands and tents (not over the internet), and only purchase those that are legal to be ignited in our area. Items such as firecrackers, rockets, bottle rockets, missile’s, chasers, M-80s, M-100’s, dynamite, and homemade or altered fireworks may be available to purchase at local Indian Reservation stands, but possession and/or use off the reservation is illegal.
In the areas of Snohomish County where fireworks are not banned, many only permit the use of home fireworks on July 4 between the hours of 9 a.m. to midnight.
For more information, please see the Snohomish County website: http://snohomishcountywa.gov/1164/Fireworks
Under federal law, fireworks are now categorized into three classes:
Class A and B-These are the types used in big fireworks displays and contain more than 50 mg of gunpowder. They are illegal for sale to the general public.
Class C-These contain 50 mg of gunpowder or less and are legal in some states. Nevertheless, this type can cause severe burns, deafness, and blindness. When placed in cans, bottles or other containers, Class C fireworks also can result in amputations of fingers, hands and limbs.
There is actually no such thing as a safe firework. Even sparklers, which look harmless, have caused severe fires, burns, and eye injuries. It’s therefore vitally important to follow the fireworks safety steps and use caution and common sense.
Fireworks can malfunction; fire prematurely or later than expected. Remember that fireworks are made with gunpowder and the explosion produces the same shrapnel as bombs or hand grenades. For this reason, safety precautions should always be taken.
Here are some important safety guidelines recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- ▪Never give fireworks to small children. They are too young to understand the danger involved.
- ▪Older children should only use fireworks under close adult supervision.
- ▪Always read and follow directions and warning instructions on the labels.
- ▪Ignite fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from houses, dry leaves or grass, and flammable materials.
- ▪Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for wetting fireworks that don’t ignite.
- ▪Keep a safe distance. Be sure other people are out of range before lighting any fireworks.
- ▪Light only one at a time and move back quickly when the fuse catches fire.
- ▪Don’t take fireworks apart or mix anything with their contents. Never try to make fireworks yourself.
- ▪Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks; pour water over the firework until soaked and then dispose of them safely.
- ▪Soak used fireworks in water.
- ▪Store in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for storage directions.
If you are attending a large fireworks show, stay in the designated viewing area far away from the front and rear of the display area. Be sure you never pick up or take home a “souvenir” from the show.
If an emergency should occur, get medical help immediately.
Never put oil or grease on a burn. Cover 1st and 2nd degree burns with a cold compress. Most burns on the face, hands, feet or genitals should be treated in the Emergency Department. Victims with a third degree burn (usually characterized by white, dry, charred skin) should be taken to the hospital immediately.
Be safe and enjoy the festivities of the holiday!
Ryan Ngiam, MD is the Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Valley General Hospital