Fireworks have been part of our Independence Day celebrations since the very first anniversary of the Fourth of July in 1777. And while you likely have fond memories of shooting off fireworks or watching the red, white, and blue displays light up the sky, the tradition is actually more dangerous than you may realize.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 12 firework-related deaths and an estimated 10,000 firework-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2019 alone. In preparation for this year's Independence Day celebrations, we talked to Imani Francies, a fire safety expert with US Insurance Agents, about the safest way to handle fireworks this summer.
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Of course, you can always skip the pyrotechnics and stick to fun and family-friendly firework alternatives instead. But if your heart is set on shooting off fireworks and lighting sparklers, read through these safety tips and take all the necessary precautions before hitting the fireworks stand this summer.
Keep Water Nearby
The most important thing you can do is to prepare for any potential incidents ahead of time. While your Fourth of July bash will hopefully go smoothly, you can never be too careful. Francies recommends keeping water close by as soon as the fireworks or sparklers come out. Keep a hose going constantly (so you don't have to run over to turn it on) and set out large plastic buckets ($3, Walmart) of water in case anything (or anyone) catches fire.
Keep Your Distance
"The most common injury when setting off fireworks is hand burns, hand fractures and lacerations, eye injuries, hearing loss, and loss of fingers," Francies says. "The best way to avoid these injuries is by staying at least 500 feet from fireworks, avoiding lighting a fuse with your head bent over the fireworks, and wearing protective eyewear."
According to the findings from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 36% of firework-related injuries in 2019 happened to children under the age of 15, which is why Francies recommends children not operate fireworks at all. If you're planning a DIY fireworks display, make sure only adults are involved in setting them off. Additionally, be sure each child at the gathering is accounted for and watched by an adult until the fireworks are over.
Skip the Cocktails
While having a red, white, and blue cocktail is customary on the Fourth of July, only sober adults should operate fireworks. If you've had a drink or two, leave the fireworks to someone else. Or, skip the at-home pyrotechnics altogether and plan for a designated driver to take your group to a local professional fireworks display instead.
"Firecrackers, sparklers, and bottle rockets are the most common kind of pyrotechnics that cause injury, so you should avoid using these if possible," Francies says. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most popular. If you do decide to participate, make sure you take absolutely every safety precaution. Children should never handle firecrackers or bottle rockets, and if older children do light sparklers, make sure they wear something protective (heat-resistant gloves) over their hands or arms. If these aren't available, poke a hole through the top of a disposable plastic cup and have children hold the end of the sparkler inside the cup to protect their hands from stray sparks.
Don't Toss Them
"Allowing children to pick up fragments of pyrotechnics after an event is not a good idea," Francies says. "Some might still be igniting and exploding at any moment. Before tossing pyrotechnics in the garbage, soak them in a basin of water." When the festivities are over, have an adult (wearing protective gloves and eyewear again) pick up all the fragments and place them in one of the just-in-case buckets of water.