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Fireworks Safety in the COVID-19 Era

Posted on Jun 29, 2020

Kids love fireworks and that goes for many adults who turn into children around fireworks. Fireworks bring all of us back to Fourth of July celebrations and evoke fond memories of summertime. This year, it is unfortunate that many cities have been forced to cancel their public displays over concerns related to physical distancing. This will likely lead to more small displays around the home, which could potentially lead to more injuries.

Even though we are familiar with firework dangers and use, they represent one of the most dangerous holiday traditions in our country. In their most recent report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 2,600 fireworks-related emergency department visits occurred in children in the period around the Fourth of July. Although fireworks that explode or shoot into the air pose a significant danger, many of those 2,600 injuries were from legal fireworks that you can buy at the local grocery store.

On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Patrick Mularoni, M.D., Emergency Center physician and director of the sports medicine program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers tips on fireworks safety. 

Let’s talk about sparklers in particular. If you are a parent and you want to light sparklers with your child, what should you know?

Children should only use these items under the close supervision of adults. Sparklers are usually used by younger children who don't have great coordination. So we are handing a 5-year-old a wire that is less than a foot long and burns at 1,500 to 3,000 degrees. Show children how to hold sparklers away from their body and at arm’s length. Before lighting the first sparkler, explain to children that sparklers should never be thrown, run with or used as pretend swords. When the sparkler is extinguished, it is still extremely hot and should be put directly into a bucket of water.

What kind of injuries come into the Emergency Center on the Fourth of July?

Obviously, burn injuries are the most common. Sparkler injuries, usually to small children, typically lead the way. These injuries happen when a child grabs the end of the sparkler or from others walking into a lit sparkler. The temperature of the sparkler can cause a third-degree burn very rapidly. This is especially problematic if the injury is to the eye as this can cause permanent visual loss. 

The second most common injury is blast injuries causing severe burns or amputations. Many times fireworks will go off sooner than expected taking the person lighting them by surprise, but some of the most serious injuries are in people who choose to hold fireworks in their hand rather than allowing them to launch from the ground. If the firework that is supposed to shoot in the air malfunctions, it can lead to very serious injuries. When lighting fireworks, you need to create a perimeter around the lighting area, and after the firework is lit, it is best to move quickly out of that perimeter in case the firework malfunctions.

What are the most important things a parent should do to keep kids safe? 

Even though it is a holiday, we all need to be COVID-19 safe. Please observe physical distancing to the best of your ability and remember that masks are no longer optional. If you are going to spend time near the water, please make sure to concentrate on water safety. We are seeing a large increase in drownings at the hospital over the last few months so please watch the children closely. Sometimes around the holiday, we have get-togethers and it is assumed that everyone standing around the pool is watching the children but actually no one is. If you are near the water, someone needs to be assigned to keep an eye on the little ones. Independence Day is a time to enjoy those you love, but please keep a close eye on the children and let’s make it a safe one. 

With fireworks, remember:

  • Only light one firework at a time
  • Don't relight "duds," instead douse them with water
  • Keep track of the unused items
  • Don't underestimate "legal" fireworks
  • Sparklers are dangerous and need to be used with caution

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Patrick Mularoni, M.D. 

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