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Medics, Police Urge Fireworks Safety for Fourth of July

by on July 01, 2014 6:00 AM

For many State College residents, the Fourth of July is a day spent barbequing with family and friends followed by a night of watching the fireworks display.

While most do this without incident, there have been holiday-related accidents in the past, causing emergency medical technicians and police officers to urge safety at this time of year.

"Victims can be injured in a number of ways — including but not limited to — holding fireworks in their hands, lighting fireworks improperly, playing with used fireworks, igniting fireworks too closely to someone, setting fireworks improperly, playing with lit fireworks and from malfunctioning fireworks," says Mount Nittany Health Communications Coordinator Erin Welsh.

Mount Nittany Medical Center does not have official statistics for the firework-related injuries treated there. Rich Kelley, clinical supervisor for Emergency Medical Services at Mount Nittany, estimates his department handles "a handful" of incidents each year. Thus far, there haven't been any accidents this summer, which is the season when most fire-related accidents occur.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were approximately 8,700 fireworks-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments across the country in 2012. This number is fairly consistent with the estimated number of injuries from previous years, Welsh says.

Of those thousands of hospital visits each year, nearly half involve children. Kelley believes that to be the case at Mount Nittany, too.

"A lot of kids use sparklers this time of year because parents think they're harmless," Kelley says. "But sparklers heat up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Glass melts at 900 degrees to give you an idea of how dangerous these can be for kids."

Hand and finger injuries are the most common, and the most frequent types of injuries are burns.

Injuries are a result of both legal and illegal fireworks. Kelley says when a burn occurs, it's important to first remove the injured person from the source of the fire. The burn should be cooled with water but if it starts blistering, you need to seek medical attention.

To avoid injury, State College Police Captain Matthew Wilson advises making sure the type of fireworks you have are legal. Under state law, ground and hand-held sparkling devices, novelties and toy caps are allowed. These "non-fireworks" are the only types allowed to be sold from tents, stands, convenience stores and retail establishments.

Kelley offers the following tips for those who do decide to use fireworks:

  • Buy fireworks from a reputable dealer
  • Light the individual fireworks one at a time
  • Fireworks should be handled by adults or at the very least with adult supervision
  • Light the firework on a flat surface, preferably concrete or asphalt
  • If a firework doesn't ignite, give it 15-20 minutes before discarding it in case it is still active
  • If you do receive an injury, seek medical treatment immediately

Wilson says when it comes to fireworks, one of the biggest issues police see is carelessness. Some people like to drink alcohol while lighting fireworks, which leads to accidents.

"They obviously are dangerous if not handled properly because they include fire and explosions," Wilson says. "They can cause severe injuries and burns. They're not something to be taken lightly which often happens."

The best advice these experts can give? Go see the professional display at 4th Fest this year instead.

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Jessica Tully recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in journalism and political science. She is a frequent contributor to StateCollege.com and has also reported for USA TODAY, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Onward State and The Daily Collegian.
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