BY NASEEM S. MILLER
ORLANDO – Last year during the Fourth of July holiday, Dr. Brett Lewellyn operated on 15 patients whose hands where injured by fireworks.
Eight lost at least one finger. Three lost their hand.
One of his colleagues treated a little girl who was injured by a mortar-type firework, which had tipped over, sending the firework into her arm and to her chest.
“I don’t know what’s going on, if it’s access to bigger explosive devices, bigger fireworks, or maybe they’re cheaper. But I’ve seen worse and worse injuries every year,” said Lewellyn, director for Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery at Orlando Health.
The experience prompted him to talk about what he and his colleagues see in the operating rooms around the Fourth of July and to remind consumers that fireworks can be dangerous when mishandled.
In Florida, firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles, daygo bombs and any fireworks containing explosive or flammable compounds — pretty much anything that explodes or leaves the ground — are banned.
Shoppers who buy those fireworks sign a form to say that they will use the fireworks for purposes outlined in the Florida statute 791.
In Orange County, the fire marshal inspects all the firework tents and their contents each year.
“We do the initial fireworks tent inspection prior to sales beginning. We verify that they’re in compliance with all requirements for the tent inspection and we leave,” said David Kilbury, the Fire Marshal at Orange County Fire Rescue.
“Some of these vendors are very legit, while other are more deceptive and probably before our inspector’s car gets down the road a mile they have brought out fireworks merchandise that are not legal to sell. We don’t go back to these tents locations unless we have a complaint.”
WATCH THE SPARKLERS
What is legal in Florida are sparklers, which come in different shapes and designs. But they’re not harmless, either.
A simple sparkler can reach 2,000 degrees.
“That’s hot enough to melt metal,” said Lewellyn. “I’ve given them to my 2- or 3-year-old and watch them and hold them, but if it’s not supervised, it can be kind of really scary.”
Nearly 13,000 fireworks-related injuries were reported in 2017 nationwide, 8,700 of which happened between June 16 and July 16.
Devices like sparklers, fountains, novelties, reloadable shells and roman candles caused about 40% of the injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
And there are about eight fatalities on average each year caused by fireworks.
Of the eight fireworks-related deaths in the United States in 2017, five were related to reloadable aerial devices, according to the report.
One case involved a 42-year-old Illinois man who sustained a fatal head injury from the explosion of a large cylindrical mortar in a PVC tube.
In another case, an 11-year-old Kansas boy died when a homemade fireworks device exploded and a piece of metal went into his neck and cut his carotid artery.
The youngest victim was a 4-year-old girl from Wisconsin whose father was packing sparklers into a piece of metal tube secured in a planting pot and igniting them.
She was about 12 feet away from the fireworks. After several successful rounds, the force of sparklers eventually blew the tube apart, creating shrapnel that struck and ultimately killed the girl, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
MOST INVOLVE BURNS
Mike Jachles, public information officer for Orange County Fire Rescue, recalled a case from several ago in South Florida, when a man who was detonating professional-grade mortars in his backyard died from the blast after a severe leg injury.
“When things go wrong with fireworks, they go very wrong, very fast, faster than any 911 system can respond,” said Jachles.
In the month around the July 4 holiday, about 280 people go to the emergency room each day because of fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
More than half of fireworks injuries involve burns. Hands and fingers make up about a third of the injuries, followed by injuries to the face, legs and eyes.
“The best thing that you could do really is enjoy fireworks in a public display. If you can’t go to a public display and you just have to buy them on your own, only purchase the legal ones. And whenever you do any type of firework, make sure you use it in the proper manner,” Lewellyn said.
“Make sure you don’t ever hold and light any firework. Make sure that children are supervised. Don’t mix drugs and alcohol with fireworks. And if you follow those guidelines, pretty much we would be injury free,” Lewellyn added.
SOME SAFETY TIPS
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends the following safety tips.
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
- Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
- Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers.
- Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
- Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
- Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
- Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
- After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
- Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.