Setting off fireworks after 4th of July shows canceled? Experts say skip them

There's no safe way to use fireworks at home, the experts agree.
/ Source: TODAY

For most of the country, Fourth of July will be subdue this year. Many cities canceled their fireworks displays to stop people from gathering to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some people, though, won’t let that stop them from enjoying fireworks and will set off their own. Yet, experts agree that home pyrotechnics are dangerous.

“There's no safe way to use fireworks and so we recommend leaving them all up to professionals,” Dr. Jenny Ziembicki, medical director of the Burn Center at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, told TODAY. “Even sparklers can reach up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and cause full … injuries.”

Anyone close to fireworks is in danger.

“Everyone around it is at risk. So the person lighting it is probably most at risk. But, because you don't know the trajectory that it's going take, everybody in the in the surrounding area is at risk,” Ziembicki said. “We see absolutely devastating injuries.”

People experience burns on their hands and faces, damage their vision and lose fingers or hands (mostly on their dominant hand).

“I’ve had very smart, very well-educated people have very severe injuries because they thought they knew what they were doing,” she said. “There’s just such an unpredictable nature.”

Will shuttered fireworks cause more home firework injuries?

While it is too early to know if Americans are more likely to enjoy home fireworks during the pandemic, traditionally the two weeks before and after the Fourth of July remain the peak time for injuries.

“Because we are in unprecedented times, we don’t have any data showing that more people are shooting off fireworks,” Gina P. Duchossois, an expert with the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told TODAY. “Fireworks can certainly cause injuries. Children account for half of the injuries.”

Legal and smaller doesn’t mean safer

Many people think because their states permit fireworks sales that they must be OK. But Ziembicki says no agency oversees them to assure that they’re harmless.

“There's just no regulation of them. So you really don't know what you're getting — even if you think that you're buying something that's fairly safe,” she said.

Often people believe that sparklers, which are smaller and burn quickly, are less dangerous. But that’s just not true.

“They get really hot. Sparklers account for a quarter of all fireworks injuries,” Duchossois said. “For kids under 5, they account for half of the injuries.”

The only safe way to enjoy fireworks is by watching professional shows from a safe distance or on TV. If parents want to provide their children with something fun and colorful, a glow stick provides hours of fun.

“Don’t light fireworks on your own. They are dangerous, if you attend public fireworks shows, make sure kids are at a safe distance,” Duchossois said. “Stay away from sparklers and go with glow sticks.”

Pets also suffer because of home fireworks

Anywhere to a quarter to half of cats and dogs fear noises and fireworks put them in danger. Dogs often escape backyards or run out of houses when startled by loud bangs.

“Some of this is about careful planning. So if you know from experience that your neighbors tend to set off fireworks after dinner around the Fourth of July then get your dog out on a potty walk before,” M. Leanne Lilly, an assistant clinical professor in the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus, told TODAY. “Minimize their outdoor time.”

She also recommends that people put their dogs on leashes or put up a barrier if they are opening a door to prevent a dog from bolting out of the house.

“If your dog has a history of being fearful of fireworks even if you have a fenced in yard, go out with your dog on a leash,” she said. “Just put that extra layer of protection.”

Providing pups with a “safe haven,” a place where they feel comfortable and can’t hear the fireworks can also minimize their anxiety. She also stresses that if people set off fireworks they should keep their pets away.

“Make sure your pets are safely distanced from them,” Lilly said. “Fireworks are miniature explosions. They do not belong in dogs’ mouths.”

What to do when burned

“If you do sustain a burn injury or a firework-related injury you always want to make sure you safely remove yourself from the source of the injury,” Ziembicki said. “If you are trying to help another person just make sure you don't put yourself at risk.”

If the burn is small, it’s OK to rinse it off with cool, but not cold water. She says people shouldn’t cover the area with cold towels “because we worry about hypothermia for larger burns.”

Clean the area gently. If it is second-degree or third-degree burns, both of which injure deep layers of skin, or involves the face or the hand, people should go to the emergency department.

“We don’t recommend that you try to put anything on the burn before you go in,” she said. “We can handle the burn once you get there.”

Often people put butter, mayonnaise or flour on burns and Ziembicki says they don't help and often make things worse.

“You just want to keep it clean,” she said. “Anything that they put on it has to be removed when they come in so it just generally causes the patient more pain.”