Danger Looms Around July 4 Holiday

Burns and Injuries from Fireworks, Campfires and Grills Abound

June 27, 2006

During the summer, especially around the Independence Day holiday, emergency rooms nationwide brace themselves for the increase they see in injuries due to fireworks, campfires and outdoor grills. More than half of the 11,000 injuries that occur every year from fireworks and grill fires happen within the first week of July, according to the National Fire Data Center.

“The most unfortunate thing about these accidents is that most could have been avoided, as with many other burns that occur in the summer,” said Christopher Lentz, M.D., director of the Strong Regional Burn Center. “Being aware of potential hazards and following a few safety tips can ensure that everyone has fun and no one is hurt.”

Here are some tips from Lentz on how to practice summer safety and steer clear of burns:

Grills

  • Take precautions starting charcoal grills: Use charcoal starter fuel---never gasoline. Make sure that coals are not warm or hot when starting the grill. Once the coals are soaked with fluid, allow a minute for the vapors to dissipate before lighting the coals; these vapors easily ignite.
  • Check grill for leaks before cooking: Prior to using a gas grill, check all connections from the fuel source to the grill for leaks. After turning the valve of the fuel source on, spray soapy water at the connections and watch for bubbles, which indicate there is a leak. If there is a leak, shut the valve off, and then tighten the connections, or have a professional check the grill.
  • Conduct an equipment check: Check all propane camping appliances for leaks before using them each season, as well as periodically during the season.

Campfires

  • Selecting a spot for a fire: Build the campfire downwind and far away from the tent. When possible, use the designated fire pit. Once a good spot has been selected, clear a 3 foot area free of leaves, dry grass, and pine needles. Be sure to clear the area around grills and tents.
  • Alcohol and campfires don't mix: The majority of campfire burns are associated with alcohol use, so it is best to avoid drinking when there is a campfire burning.
  • Keep a lookout: Never, under any circumstance, leave a campfire unattended, or children alone to watch the fire.
  • Leave others a safe campsite: Before leaving the campsite, ensure that the fire is out. Douse the place of the fire with water, and stir to make sure it stays out.

Fireworks

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, about 45 percent of persons injured from fireworks every year are children ages 14 years and younger and 72 percent of all those injured are males. Fireworks-related injuries most frequently involve hands and fingers, eyes, and the head and face. More than half of the injuries are burns.   

“In New York state, fireworks are illegal, making injuries even more tragic,” Lentz said, adding that seemingly harmless fireworks such as sparklers, firecrackers and bottle rockets are responsible for more than two thirds of fireworks-related injuries. Sparklers cause the lion share of these injuries. Among children under five, sparklers account for three-quarters of all fireworks-related injuries. When lit, sparklers can reach dangerously hot temperature levels--1800 °F or more, and may burn even when extinguished.

Four common reasons for firework injuries:

  • Being too close: Injuries may result from being too close to fireworks when they explode; for example, when someone bends over to look more closely at a firework that has been ignited, or when a misguided bottle rocket hits a nearby person.
  • Unsupervised use: One study estimates that children are 11 times more likely to be injured by fireworks if they are unsupervised.
  • Curiosity: Children are often excited and curious around fireworks, which can increase their chances of being injured (e.g., when they re-examine a firecracker dud that initially fails to ignite).
  • Experimentation: Homemade fireworks (e.g., ones made of the powder from several firecrackers) can lead to dangerous explosions. 

In the Case of Burn Injuries

 

            If a burn does occur, follow the 4 C’s of burn first aid

  • Cool the wound:  Pour cool water directly over the wound as often as you can.  Do not use ice or ice water, since this may make the burn deeper.
  • Clean the woundWash the area gently with mild soap and water to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Cover the wound:  Use any clean covering, such as a towel or gauze, to protect the wound from contamination.
  • Call for help:  If you are unsure if the burn requires medical attention, chances are, you probably do need to see a doctor.  According to Lentz, burns can look deceptively minor immediately following the injury, and waiting will only prolong the pain and treatment time.  If the burn area is larger than the palm of your hand, or is not better within 24 hours (i.e., still looks red, blistering, peeling skin), definitely call your physician.

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