Ahhh, the Fourth of July. Food, fireworks, fun…and a trip to the ER? As Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate Independence Day, thousands of them will end up in emergency rooms with injuries caused by fireworks, sparklers, barbecue grills and more.
“This time of year, we definitely see an increase in patients coming in with burns, dehydration, and heat exhaustion,” says Kevin L. Taylor, M.D. , medical director of the Emergency Department at Bethesda Hospital East , which is part of Baptist Health South Florida.
Some of these can be life-threatening, he adds, requiring rapid assessment and treatment from a trained emergency medicine specialist.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), dozens of people are killed by fireworks each year and roughly 10,000 people sustain injuries serious enough to require emergency treatment. Many of these injuries are from fireworks being mishandled, causing injuries to the head, face, eyes and ears, and especially the hands and fingers.
What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe on the Fourth of July? First and foremost, Dr. Taylor says, is to remember that we are still in a pandemic.
If you’re planning on hosting or attending a Fourth of July gathering, he advises exercising caution and following current CDC guidelines for the coronavirus.
“If you’re fully vaccinated, and everyone else is, too, celebrating Independence Day with family and friends should be safe,” he says. “However, if some members of the party are still unvaccinated, outdoor gatherings would offer more opportunity for social distancing and ventilation.”
Don’t imbibe and ignite
When it comes to fireworks, Dr. Taylor says to remember that drinking alcohol while using any kind of pyrotechnic device is an invitation to visit the ER. “You’d be surprised at what some people are capable of doing to themselves when they’ve had too much to drink,” he says. “And with fireworks, they’re not just putting themselves at risk, but everyone around them.”
If you do choose to celebrate with fireworks during the holiday, Dr. Taylor recommends following these important fireworks safety tips from the CPSC:
- Always place fireworks a safe distance from any flammable items or structures.
- 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.
Also important, Dr. Taylor adds, is keeping a close eye on children and maintaining a safe distance between them and the fireworks. “Given the risk of burn and eye injury, children should never be allowed to play with or ignite fireworks and should always be supervised when they’re near or around fireworks of any kind.”
Sparklers are especially popular with children but, according to the National Fire Protection Association, they account for more than 25 percent of emergency room visits for fireworks injuries.
The National Safety Council notes that sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals – and that they can quickly ignite clothing. Children also have received severe burns from dropping sparklers on their feet. It suggests parents consider using safer alternatives, such as glow sticks, confetti poppers or colored streamers.
Mind the grill
The same list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for fireworks also applies to grilling, Dr. Taylor says. “People who’ve had too much to drink shouldn’t be grilling or anywhere near a grill,” he says. “We’ve seen some nasty burns from people who’ve had close encounters with their grills.”
People who use cooking oil sprays to lubricate their charcoal grills should be especially careful, Dr. Taylor says. “In a split second, the fire from the coals can travel back along the spray to the can and it can blow up in your hands.”
Cookouts can also pose a risk for foodborne illness, cautions Dr. Taylor, who says the risk increases if food – meat, especially – has been at room temperature for more than three to four hours. “Remember to keep cold things cold and hot things hot, and to promptly store leftovers in the refrigerator,” he advises.
Beat the heat
Anyone who lives in South Florida knows how oppressive our summers can be, with their relentless heat and humidity. Dr. Taylor says that’s why people need to be extra careful when outdoors – especially if they’re working or exercising.
“Dehydration can quickly turn into heat exhaustion and heat stroke which, if left untreated, can be deadly,” Dr. Taylor warns. “Use caution during exposure to our intense sun and heat, and remember to pre-hydrate before going outdoors.”
To avoid the risk of sunburn and skin cancer, he recommends staying out of the sun when it’s at its strongest – usually between 10am and 4pm here in South Florida – and using adequate sun protection when you do go outdoors.
Tempted to cool off in the pool? Unintentional drownings are much more common during summer months, says Dr. Taylor, especially in South Florida where so many people have pools. “In a busy pool with a lot of activity all around, a child can slip under the water unnoticed and drown within a few seconds,” he says. “Make sure all children in the pool are closely monitored by a responsible, non-drinking adult.”
Dr. Taylor says he understands the need people have to be with others – on the Fourth of July and every day – and hopes they can safely enjoy their time together. “Have fun and be safe. I think most people would rather spend the holiday with their family and friends than with a bunch of doctors and nurses.”