Avoid a trip to the emergency room this July 4th with these firework safety tips
Setting off dazzling displays of fireworks is a time-honored way to celebrate Independence Day, but it can quickly become dangerous — and even deadly — when safety guidelines are ignored.
The United States saw a 50% increase in fireworks-related injuries and deaths from 2019 to 2020, according to a report from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Around 15,600 people visited the emergency room for fireworks-related injuries in 2020 compared to about 10,000 in 2019. The number of deaths linked to fireworks jumped from 12 reported deaths in 2019 to at least 18 in 2020.
Last year, the pandemic forced the cancellation of many commercial fireworks shows, said Patty Davis, deputy director of communications and press secretary at the US CPSC.
The canceled shows “may have spurred consumers to use fireworks on their own,” Davis hypothesized.
Consumer fireworks are safe when proper safety protocols are followed, she added.
Staying safe while using fireworks
It’s important to plan your fireworks activities ahead of time and have a sober adult in charge, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
In 2020, 44% of the people who died from fireworks-related injuries had consumed alcohol or drugs prior to the incident, according to the US CPSC.
When lighting fireworks, set them on a flat surface and quickly move away after they are lit, Davis said. Afterward, soak the fireworks with water.
“Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks,” she said. Instead, soak them in water per usual, Davis added.
Hands and fingers were the most injured body parts both years and accounted for 30% of fireworks injuries in 2020, according to the US CPSC report.
Children should never handle fireworks, including sparklers, Davis said.
“Sparklers burn as hot as a blowtorch at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius), and that’s enough to burn some metals,” she said.
Sparkler injuries accounted for 900 fireworks-related emergency room visits in 2020, second to only firecrackers with 1,600 visits, according to the US CPSC report.
It’s also courteous to notify your neighbors when you will be setting off fireworks, Heckman said.
“Let them know of your planned fireworks activities, especially families with young children or pets, or veterans who may suffer from PTSD as the noise from fireworks may be startling,” she said.
Americans should avoid purchasing illegal fireworks, such as fireworks sold by unauthorized sellers, and setting off commercial fireworks as consumers, Heckman said.
“The public should avoid any fireworks devices offered for sale in brown paper wrap devoid of warning labels and instructions for use,” she noted.
A broken fireworks supply chain
Fireworks stores that sell year-round like to sit at around 30% stock after the holiday, co-owner John Sorgi said, so he was surprised when they sold out around 10 p.m. on the Fourth.
To prepare for another potential surge in sales, Sorgi said his company ordered 150% more fireworks than usual.
“I honestly thought it was going to calm down a little bit, but the sales have been pretty on par with last year,” Sorgi said.
Almost all consumer fireworks in the US are made and shipped from China, and supply chain delays due to the pandemic mean fireworks companies are only receiving about 70% of their products, he said.
Sorgi expects the delayed shipments to arrive around two weeks after July 4, which he says is OK for his year-round store, but could be detrimental to seasonal shops that only open for a couple weeks leading up to the holiday.
States like Texas have selling seasons during which fireworks retailers are allowed to sell the sparkling explosives, Sorgi explained. For Independence Day, stores in Texas can sell fireworks from June 24 through midnight on July 4, according to the Texas State Fire Marshal.
Fortunately, fireworks do not expire, so they can be sold during future selling periods, Sorgi said.
Following fireworks laws
Retailers aren’t the only ones who have to follow specific fireworks regulations.
Fireworks laws can differ by the county or city in which they are being used or sold, so people need to research what the rules are in their particular area, Davis said.
In Ohio, for example, consumers can purchase fireworks but not set them off, Sorgi said. Fireworks have been banned altogether in some areas due to the relentless drought in the Western US.
The American Pyrotechnics Association has a state-by-state guide to regulations for consumers to reference, but people should still check with their local governments for the latest information.