Though delightful, fireworks can spark injury


Kids are drawn to fireworks like a moth to a flame. It makes sense; they’re colorful, bright, loud and only available on special occasions.

Growing up, plenty of us had easy access to fireworks. Sparklers, bottle rockets and firecrackers were a source of curiosity and wonder. Now that I see children each summer with injuries caused by the very same items, I feel incredibly lucky that I never had an accident.

Here’s the bottom line: Though fireworks are a lot of fun, they are super dangerous. Even the ones that seem kid-friendly, like sparklers.

I was amazed when I first found out how harmful sparklers can be. They reach 1,200 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of seconds. Sparklers are one of the top causes of injury during the days surrounding Independence Day. We treat several second- and third-degree burns caused by sparklers in the Emergency Department and Burn Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Each year, more than 10,000 people are burned by fireworks across the U.S. Who is at biggest risk for these injuries? Kids between the ages of 5 and 14, according to the ACH Burn Center. Each year, we see most of the fireworks cases tied to the upcoming holiday, and the majority of those include burns to the hands, eyes and face. This is another risk that families face between Memorial and Labor Day, which we refer to as the 100 Deadliest Days for Kids.

I talked with Amber Files, registered nurse, who is an outreach coordinator for our Burn Center. She told me that for every 1 percent of the body surface burned in a fireworks injury, children spend at least one day in the hospital recovering. These injuries can frequently cover up to a 1/3 of the body.

“People don’t realize how costly a burn injury is,” Amber said, “not only to the family, but also to the hospital and to the provider; it is one of the most painful injuries that you can have.”

The good news is that these burns can be prevented – easily! The best way to protect kids from fireworks is to not have them around the house or use them at all.

You can still enjoy the beauty of fireworks, of course, but by going to a professional display, instead. Let’s face it: Big public fireworks shows are where the good stuff is anyway! Those massive explosions in the sky are much more entertaining than any of the bursts provided by items sold at road-side stands.

Look in newspapers like this one and online listings for more info on where the best public displays are planned in your area this July 4th.

If your families plan on taking the surprisingly high risk of using personal fireworks, here are some tips for creating a safer experience:

• Only adults should use fireworks.

• Do not alter, combine or create your own fireworks.

• Alcohol should never be used while shooting fireworks.

• Don’t purchase fireworks that look like toys; these pose a greater risk to kids who don’t understand their power.

• Keep water near in the event of a fire.

• Seek help or call 911 if burns are larger than the size of a quarter, cover any joint part or extremities.

• If a child is on fire, stop, drop and roll. Stand still and use a water hose to extinguish the flames.

• Do not put ice on a burn; it can deepen it and decrease the child’s body temperature. Until paramedics arrive, keep the child warm with a blanket.

• Do not treat burns at home. Seek the advice of a medical professional immediately.

You won’t need to worry about the risks that fireworks pose if you opt to go to a professional display this season instead. These shows are staged by professionals and firefighters are always on hand.

We want families to enjoy this spirit of Independence Day with all the atmosphere they expect! Head to a fun family outing instead of using fireworks at home, and you’ll avoid seeing us at ACH this July 4th.

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Dr. Sam Smith is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He writes a column each week covering a variety of kids’ medical concerns.