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Published on June 24, 2013

University Trauma Surgeon Gives Fireworks Safety Tips

COLUMBIA, Mo. - For many Americans, the colorful glow of fireworks is a Fourth of July tradition. Because of fireworks' potential to cause injury, however, Jeffrey Coughenour, M.D., a surgeon at University Hospital's Frank L. Mitchell Jr., M.D., Trauma Center, encourages people also to make safety a holiday tradition.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 9,600 fireworks related injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2011 and two-thirds of those injuries occurred during the month surrounding July 4. More than one-third of fireworks related injuries affected children and teens age 19 and younger.

"Being vigilant with fireworks is especially important around children," said Coughenour. "Kids usually don't understand the risks and dangers with fireworks, so they can be more prone to injury. For young kids, going to public fireworks displays can be a  good option. Even for older children, you should never leave them unsupervised around fireworks."

Even fireworks that many people consider safe can carry significant risk of injury. Coughenour said sparklers are some of the most dangerous fireworks for kids. Burning at temperatures around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, sparklers can cause severe burns. The CPSC reports sparklers caused 17 percent of firework injuries in 2011. 

"Burns are the most common firework injuries," Coughenour said. "If you are burned, you should carefully wash the wound and dress it in a clean, dry bandage. Burns can cause serious, permanent disability, so if you have any concern about the severity of the injury, it's important to see a physician - especially for injuries to sensitive areas, such as the face and hands." 
Coughenour suggests following these safety tips if using fireworks at home:

  • Check your local laws to make sure they are legal before buying or using fireworks.
  • Never leave children unsupervised around fireworks.
  • Read and follow all warnings and instructions.
  • Never tamper or experiment with fireworks.
  • Wear protective eyewear.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors.
  • Light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from houses, dry leaves and trees.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, and keep a safe distance from them.
  • Don't use matches, cigarettes or lighters to light fireworks directly. Use punk sticks.
  • Never put any part of your body over lit fireworks.
  • Never light fireworks in your hand.
  • Always keep garden hose or bucket of water nearby.
  • Never re-light or pick up fireworks that didn't fully ignite. Douse them in water and soak them for 15 to 20 minutes before disposing of them.

If you suffer a fireworks burn injury, cool the burn with cold tap water, not ice or ice water. Clean the area and cover the burn with a bandage. If the burn is larger than the size of your palm, if you experience discomfort or pain in caring for the burn, or if the burn occurs on the hands, feet or face, call University Hospital's George D. Peak Memorial Burn and Wound Center at 573- 882-BURN (2876).

Dr. Coughenour on Fireworks