No danger too small
Before we explore the topic of fireworks, you should know what exactly falls under the “fireworks” label. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says fireworks include shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets, sparklers, firecrackers (50 milligrams or less of powder), and novelty items, such as snakes, ground spinners, fountains, and party poppers. What’s in those fireworks is one of the fascinating facts about fireworks you never knew.
More than an Band-Aid
The stats don’t lie: Fireworks have fuses that need to be ignited, and when there is fire involved there is an inherent danger. Not surprising, burns were the most frequent injury reported in emergency rooms, accounting for 44 percent of the estimated injuries in the newly released 2018 CPSC Fireworks Report; contusions and lacerations followed at 28 percent. When you light or hold a firework in your hand, that puts hands and fingers in the direct line of fire. Not surprisingly, hands are the most injured body part, accounting for 28 percent; legs are often in close proximity to fireworks that tip over, which may account for 24 percent of the injuries. Heads placed over lit fireworks or while re-lighting a dud can lead to injuries of the face, including eyes, and resulted in 19 percent of the estimated 5,600 injuries in 2018.
Gunpowder in fireworks has explosive and propellant properties that are extremely dangerous. It’s anyone’s guess how much gunpowder and other substances could actually be in illegal fireworks or how dangerous and life-threatening they could be. These type of fireworks aren’t just the ones in brown paper packaging, but ones that are banned for consumer use. Take the M-1,000 for example. It’s a large firecracker type of firework used by professionals in public displays. Once ignited it explodes almost instantaneously, making it extremely dangerous. Make sure you’re in one of the states where fireworks are legal before buying one.
Firecrackers are generally short and explode quickly, putting the body in harm’s way. Firecrackers caused about 1,000 injuries to the fingers or hands requiring visits to the emergency room visits in 2018. They can be bought as a single firecracker or often sold strung together in packs of 16. Lighting a firecracker while holding it by the hand is not safe. “Thermal heat causes burns and in extreme cases, firecrackers can explode in someone’s hands, which can result in partial or full amputation of their fingers,” says Julie Newhouse, BSN, RN, CEN, Holmes Regional Medical Center emergency department nurse manager. Legal firecrackers are limited to 50 milligrams of explosive composition and contain instructions for use and warnings; illegal firecrackers do not. “Consumers should beware of any firecracker not packaged with warnings and labels as they may be illegal explosives and very dangerous,” says Julie Heckman, executive director, American Pyrotechnics Association.
Reloadable aerial shells with tubes aren’t legal in every state, but in the states where they are legal, they’re popular because they have the “ooh” and “ahh” factor like the fireworks you might see at a public display. “They let the amateurs feel like a pro on the Fourth of July,” says Heckman. “But these are not toys! Misusing these devices can cause serious injury, so please follow and adhere to instructions for use.” And that’s where the danger comes in—not following the instructions. According to the CPSC report, a victim put a mortar shell into a launching tube but didn’t place it on the ground. Instead, he lit the fuse and held the tube in his hand. The firework exploded in the tube and the victim died of blunt force injury to the chest. In fact, injuries sustained from reloadable fireworks accounted for five deaths and 700 estimated injuries in 2018.
Multiple tube fireworks
It’s also known as a mine or shell device, with single or multiple shots. “These ‘displays in a box’ are incredibly popular and provide excellent entertainment in a single device,” says Heckman. The appeal is due to the fuse that ignites a bag full of stars that propel into the air, one after the other. But when they are not used properly they are very dangerous, accounting for 500 estimated injuries in 2018. The CPSC reports an incident of a multiple tube that was set on top of a car and ignited. The first shot went up, but then the tube fell over, shooting the remaining four shots in all directions. One shot exploded by someone’s foot causing her footwear to explode, which resulted in third-degree burns about the size of a softball on her right foot.
“Roman candles are designed to shoot ‘flaming balls,” says Heckman. They come in a variety of sizes and most eject five or more balls—one ball at a time with a short pause in-between. Roman candles caused 400 injuries in 2018, 200 of which affected the eye. According to an incident in the CPSC report, some of the people injured in fireworks were innocent bystanders like an 8-year old boy, who was on the sidewalk of his apartment complex when an adult male aimed a Roman candle at his eye, causing the boy to lose one eye and seriously damaging the other.
At first glance, this aerial firework looks like a firecracker attached to a thin stick, usually about 12 inches in length and with the cone top it resembles a toy space rocket. It usually whistles and sometimes finishes with a loud bang. A windy day or launching from an unstable surface can send this rocket into the direct path of an innocent bystander. That could be the reason why 200 people ended up in the emergency room as a result of bottle rockets in 2018. Instead of watching the neighbors light fireworks, play it safe and head the best fireworks display in your state.
It has been the most common and favored backyard firework of children for decades yet this sparkly and pointy firework burns at a temperature of about 1800 degrees—hot enough to burn glass and some metals. In 2018 they caused 500 injuries; 54 percent to tots under the age of five. “Extreme care must be practiced when sparklers are used. Young children should never handle sparklers or any fireworks,” advises Heckman.
Sometimes fireworks are dangerous because you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. What the CPSC stats don’t differentiate is how often the injury is caused by fireworks used by other people. The CPSC says fireworks such as rockets, fountains, multiple tube, and reloadable devices, which can travel between 10 feet to over 300 feet (depending on the firework) can injure people some distance away who are sitting or just happen to be walking in the line of fire from where the firework was launched and went off course. Watch from a safer distance and explore one of these splurge-worthy fourth of July destinations.