Treat Fireworks With Caution On The Fourth of July

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS) Setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July is a fun American tradition, but it can often end in injury and tragedy if done improperly.

The National Fire Protection Association estimated that in 2011, U.S. emergency rooms treated about 9,600 people for firework-related injuries. Sixty-one percent of the visits were due to injuries to the extremities, and 34 percent were because of injuries to the head. Children between ages five and 19 and adults 25 to 44 were the most common victims.

"The sad thing about this type of injury is it is absolutely preventable," Dr. Donald Jenkins, a trauma specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said to CBSNews.com.

Jenkins added that there is an increase in the number of victims during the period around July 4th every year. During the two weeks prior to Independence Day through the two weeks after, about 200 people every day are injured enough by fireworks to go to the emergency room.

"The two biggest culprits for these injuries are firecrackers and sparklers, the most innocent of fireworks, because of their ubiquity," he explained. "That's burning magnesium. It's white hot, and with those sparks and the wrong kind of environment, it can set things on fire."

When fireworks are burning, the can reach temperatures of over 2000 degrees F, which is hot enough to give anyone a burn. But in a lot of cases people -- especially kids -- get injured when they think the firework or sparkler is out. Victims will throw it on the ground or near someone, inadvertently creating an injury.

Sometimes jokesters will aim fireworks at each other or try and throw a firework while it is lit, which is asking for injury. Never light a firework while it is still in your hand.

Many people have lost hands and fingers when fireworks explode before they are expected to. Others have lost their eyes, eyesight, ears and their hearing when a firework explodes just as it is whizzing by their head.

"Scores of people are going to lose their eyesight in one or more of their eyes," Jenkins warned.

Jenkins pushed for proper supervision when young people are using fireworks. People should read all the directions and follow them, including adhering appropriate age limits. Even if the weather is bad outside, people should never set of fireworks in their homes or in their garage.

Most of all, people should avoid drinking alcohol while handling fireworks.

"The problem is we celebrate with more than one tradition at the same time," Jenkins said. "It doesn't need the alcohol for things to go wrong, but that adds to the problem of appropriate supervision and hand and eye coordination and sense of timing."

If someone does get injured and burned, remove the clothing around the burn and put some cool water on the wound. Do not put lotions or ointments on it and bring the person to the emergency room immediately. If someone's eye is injured, do not rub or flush the eye out with water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

To avoid getting hurt, Jenkins said your best bet is to leave fireworks to experts who know what they're doing.

"Go watch the professionals do it," he pointed out. "It involves no risk to anyone, outside of the professionals who are doing it. This might be the best option."

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