Tips for a happy and healthy Independence Day

It’s hard to resist the allure of fireworks on the Fourth of July. After all, it’s the oldest celebration in the nation. But each year, thousands of careless revelers are injured.

According to a 2007 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 11 people died and approximately 9,200 were treated in emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries in 2006. About five percent of the injured required admission to the hospital.

Most injuries are to the person lighting the fireworks when the rocket backfires or doesn’t go off. They investigate by picking it up and it explodes, resulting in burns to the hands, arms, legs, ears and face; the loss of fingers; and shrapnel and other foreign bodies injuring the eyes. In some cases, their clothing can catch fire, creating more burns. Bystanders who are too close also can receive similar injuries.

“The best way to avoid injury is to attend a professional fireworks celebration,” Ernest Grant, RN, MSN, nursing education clinician for burn outreach at the N. C. Jaycee Burn Center at the University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill. “The individuals responsible for these shows are trained, licensed professionals. That said, we know that everyone will not heed this warning.”

For those folks, a little common sense can prevent a disastrous outcome:

1. Read the safety instructions.
2. Choose a wide-open space free of anything that can burn (dried grass, wood, paper).
3. Keep bystanders at a safe distance and don’t allow children to handle fireworks or wander anywhere nearby.
4. Have a garden hose or bucket of water immediately available should a fire start.
5. Use a long-tipped lighter or fireplace match to light the fireworks.
6. Leave failed fireworks alone. Don’t relight. Wait 20 minutes and then soak in a bucket of water.
7. Don’t use fireworks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
8. Have a fully stocked first-aid kit available.

And if you think sparklers are safer, think again. “Sparklers and fireworks that are designed to explode or throw off showers of hot sparks may have a temperature that exceeds 1200 degrees Fahrenheit,” Grant explains. “Don’t hand these to children.” And make sure they remain a safe distance from the flying sparks.

If injury occurs, Grant advises the following:

For small, minor burns: If the burn is not too large, remove any jewelry or other constricting clothing and cool the affected area with cool water. Once cooled, cover with a sterile dressing or clean, non-fluffy materials (i.e., not cotton, not an adhesive bandage) to protect it from the possibility of an infection.  Do not use lotions, ointments or creams. If the pain persists, or if the burn is larger than the size of a quarter, see your doctor immediately.
 
For large, deep burns: Always seek medical attention for burns greater than the size of a quarter or greater than the size of the victim’s palm. Call 911. Follow the same directions as above, but if the burn covers a large portion of the body, do not over-cool as this can produce hypothermia. Make the individual as comfortable as possible until EMS arrives. Do not give anything to eat, drink or smoke; or administer any pain medications -- even over-the-counter products.
 
 The Fourth of July can be an exciting and fun holiday full of fireworks. But the best advice it to leave it to the professionals, Grant says. “Be safe…attend the public firework displays.”