Every year, healthcare teams across Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America’s (BRCA) nationwide care system treat an influx of firework-related hand, trauma and burn injuries around the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day and New Year’s holidays. Explosives, like fireworks, are never safe to handle and always come with a risk of injury or fire. Precautions should always be taken to avoid injury and prevent fires.
Which fireworks are dangerous?
While all fireworks are dangerous, some are more commonly associated with injury than others. Mortars, roman candles and sparklers are frequent culprits of severe and traumatic firework injuries. But what is it that makes them a health hazard?
Mortars: Mortar fireworks are the big ground-to-sky fireworks that everyone loves to watch at professional displays. However, when not handled by a professional, these fireworks can incur severe traumatic injuries to the face, head, hands and arms. These fireworks are meant to blast off with enough force to get them a good distance into the sky. If one fires prematurely with someone standing over the firework or if the firework falls over, the blast has enough force to puncture and burn the skin, break bones, damage eyes, cause traumatic brain damage and other potentially life-threatening injuries.
Roman candles: These are smaller, tubular fireworks that eject exploding shells. Meant to be held while they fire, these fireworks are known to cause traumatic hand injuries by malfunctioning and backfiring. Other injuries associated with roman candles are face and body injuries caused by friendly fire.
Sparklers: Often given to children, these burning hot sticks can cause severe hand burns and fires. Sparklers burn at temperatures of 1600° F and up. Most sparklers consist of a metal rod that heats up as it burns. If not careful, this metal rod can cause severe burn injuries and start fires if not discarded properly. The sparks from the sparkler can also spread, potentially causing a fire.
Miscellaneous: Some lesser-known causes of firework injuries include pop-its and cherry bombs. If kids use pop-its around flammable material such as gasoline cans, they can cause an accidental explosion that can injure themselves or others. Cherry bombs, like roman candles, are known for causing hand injuries. They can explode prematurely and severely damage the hand and digits. If thrown at other people, they can cause head, face and body injuries that may require medical attention.
Common firework injuries
Burn centers across BRCA’s care system treat various firework-related injuries every year. At the Joseph M. Still (JMS) Burn Center of Augusta, GA, the largest burn center in the country, traumatic craniofacial injuries, hand injuries and general burn injuries are common around the Fourth of July and other holidays.
According to Dr. Rizal Lim, a burn and reconstructive surgeon with BRCA, about 30% of firework injuries treated at the JMS Burn Center are hand injuries. These injuries may include burns, amputations, fractures, degloving, etc. Our comprehensive burn teams are trained in the management, salvage and reconstruction of skin, soft tissue, fascia, digits and appendages, giving our patients the best outcome possible no matter where they are seen.
Fires started by fireworks
Fireworks should never be used during county burn bans or dry or windy conditions. During a dry spell, your local county authorities will enact a burn ban warning everyone against starting fires or using fireworks. Burn bans are meant to discourage outdoor fires that may grow out of control due to the dry environment that may act as an accelerant. Outside of hazardous weather conditions and burn bans, fireworks can start fires in a number of ways, including:
- Dumpster fires from improperly disposed of fireworks.
- House fires from storing live fireworks in the garage or house and fireworks landing on the roof or gutters.
- Property fires from improperly discarded sparklers and fireworks hitting trees or exploding on the ground.
Sparklers and used fireworks should never be discarded on the ground, in fires or in garbage cans. Used fireworks should be hosed down and left where they are for at least 24 hours or until it is safe to move them to the garbage bin. Keep the garbage can at the curb and away from your house while the fireworks remain there.
All fireworks should be used on a flat, sturdy surface where they are not likely to tip over. A firework that tips over or that is fired in the direction of houses or property may cause house damage, fires or injury to those nearby. Keep a hose or a bucket of water within reach in case of emergency.
Firework Safety Tips
Fireworks are used all year round to celebrate holidays and special occasions. To help limit the risks of injury or fire:
- Check with your local rules and regulations to ensure you can light fireworks in your area.
- Set up fireworks on a flat surface to reduce the risk of tipping.
- Designate someone as the safety person, someone as the “shooter” and someone in charge of keeping children clear of the “shooting” area.
- Make sure the “shooter” is not wearing loose clothing that could ignite and follows all directions on the fireworks label. If the device does not have a warning and/or instructions label, do not fire it.
- Use a flashlight to light the area so the “shooter” can see what they are doing.
- Light fireworks one at a time in a designated area, away from dry grass, homes and children. Be wary that some low-charge fireworks like firecrackers could be dangerously assembled to create a much larger explosion than intended, so parents need to watch their children when handling low-charge fireworks.
- Have a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water nearby just in case of an accident.
- Educate children on proper firework etiquette: don’t get too close and don’t touch.
- Closely monitor children when they have sparklers.
- Avoid re-lighting, leaning over or picking up a “dud.” The firework is still live and has the potential to go off.
- Never throw fireworks. A malfunctioning fuse could cause the item to go off in your hand.
- Immediately call 911 to report any accidents.
When handling sparklers:
- SPARKLERS ARE NOT HARMLESS.
- Never light more than one at a time.
- Never light one in your child’s hand.
- Do not give sparklers to young children.
- Make sure children keep the sparklers away from others and flammable materials.
- Make sure the sparkler is kept at a proper distance from their bodies to avoid burns or clothes catching on fire.
- When they are done, stick the used sparklers in a bucket of sand or water.
- Consider bamboo stick sparklers if you can.
- Remember that fireworks, especially sparklers and smaller items that stay on the ground, are still very hot and therefore dangerous after they have been used.
For more information about firework safety or thermal burns, please visit our website at www.burncenters.com. If you are suffering from a firework injury, please don’t wait to seek help. Call our experts 24/7 at (855) 863-9595 for your non-emergent needs. For emergencies, please call 911.
For more information on thermal burns, click here.
For patient stories about firework injuries, please see the links below: