Few things make huge crowds gaze admiringly at the sky like fireworks. A well orchestrated fireworks show is a beauty to behold. I live in Montreal, where the Montreal International Fireworks Competition is a perfect example of how the beauty of explosives can be mixed with the beauty of music to create a magical evening. But not all fireworks displays are so well coordinated or safe. Most, I dare say, are homemade, neighborhood endeavors, which can be dangerous.
June 1 to July 4 is Fireworks Safety Month in the United States. Every year, an estimated 9,000 fireworks-related injuries, mostly burns and eye injuries, are reported. According to the American Association of Ophthalmology, one-quarter of those eye injuries result in permanent loss of vision or blindness. And children are at the highest risk:
Children are the most common victims of firework accidents, with those fifteen years old or younger accounting for half of all fireworks eye injuries in the United States. For children under the age of five, seemingly innocent sparklers account for one-third of all fireworks injuries. Sparklers can burn at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause a third-degree burn.
In 2006, a study published in the journal Pediatrics, reported that over a period of 14 years, 85,000 children had been injured by fireworks. Their average age was almost 11 years old and 78 percent of those injured were boys. Not all who were injured were doing setting off the fireworks: at least 22 percent were bystanders.
The most common devices that caused injuries were firecrackers, causing 30 percent of the injuries, followed by sparklers or novelty devices (20.5 percent of injuries) and then aerial devices.
The eyeball was the most commonly injured body part (21 percent), followed by the face (20 percent), and the hands (20 percent). The most common injuries were burns.
So what do you do if someone is injured by fireworks?
- If a chemical has splashed into the eye, flush it with clean water as soon as possible.
- If an object is in the eye or punctured the eye, do not try to remove it. If you can put a small paper cup or something similar over the eye, this could provide protection until you get to the emergency department.
- Do not rub the eye.
- Even if the injury affects one eye only, cover both eyes. This helps reduce the eye movement (as the uninjured eye moves, the injured one will too, perhaps increasing the severity of injury).
- If the burn is first or second degree (red, blistering, but not black or charred), the usual course of action is to stop the burning process as quickly as possible with cold water - not ice water. If running water isn't possible, you can use a clean cloth for a cold compress, gently over the area. Do not press down on the skin.
- If blisters form, do NOT break them. This could introduce infection into the area.
- If you are going to cover or wrap the burn, be sure you do not use something that has lint or bits of cotton that can come off and stick to the skin. The best bandage is a sterile gauze.
- Watch closely for signs of infection (increased pain, fever, oozing from the burn). If you have any concerns, seek medical advice.
- Third degree burns must be treated as a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 for emergency help.
Fireworks can be a wonderful way to finish off a fun day, a way of celebrating what has passed and what will be. They are beautiful to behold. But they are also dangerous and must be treated with caution and respect.