Fairview Park Hospital - June 29, 2016

firework safety

With children home for the summer, and a celebration of independence on tap, the risk of getting burned or injured rises like the temperature. At the top of the risk list is summer bonfires, said Dr. George Harrison, Hospitalist at Fairview Park Hospital.

"Usually, bonfires are accompanied by large gatherings and drinking, which can lead to carelessness," Dr. Harrison said. "It is in that moment of carelessness that catastrophe can happen."

There are some simple tips to ensure your bonfire is as safe as possible:

  • Designate someone to be in charge of the fire, and ensure that they are in control of what is added to the fire and when.
  • Create a three-foot safe zone around the fire, using rocks or other non-flammable material, to encircle the burn area.
  • Keep the fire at a reasonable height. With flames, bigger is not necessarily better.
  • Store firewood away from the burn area.
  • Do not put paint cans, trash or other potentially dangerous items in the fire. Not only could these items explode, they may produce toxic fumes when burned.
  • Always douse the fire with water when the bonfire is over. Then stir the ashes with a shovel and douse them again. Mark the area clearly so that no one could accidentally walk through leftover hot coals.
  • Make sure everyone knows to Stop, Drop and Roll if clothing catches fire. Call 911 or your local emergency number if a burn warrants serious medical attention.

Similar precautions can go a long way toward making fireworks safe. Remember, there are no "safe" fireworks.

"Of course, we recommend leaving fireworks in the hands of professionals, but we also know people are going to buy them and fire them off," Dr. Harrison said. "It is these smaller fireworks that are often the most dangerous."

For example, sparklers leave behind extremely hot pieces of metal that can cause severe burns if touched. Also, even small firecrackers can cause burns or traumatic hand injuries.

"Most of the time, the injuries we see from fireworks could have been avoided by using just a little common sense," Dr. Harrison said. "Remember: You can never be too careful when dealing with fireworks."

Among the ways to ensure a fireworks-safe Independence Day:

  • Create a "blast zone" that is away from structures, people, dry grass and other flammable items. Fireworks should never be fired indoors.
  • Designate an adult as the safety person, another adult as the "shooter" and someone to be in charge of keeping children clear of the "shooting" area. Let children enjoy the show, not be part of it.
  • Make sure the "shooter" is not wearing loose clothing that could ignite, and follows all directions on the fireworks label. If the device does not have a warning and/or instructions label, do not fire it.
  • Get a flashlight to light the area so the "shooter" can see what he or she is doing.
  • Never stand over an item that does not fire.
  • Never throw fireworks. A malfunctioning fuse could cause the item to go off in your hand.
  • Ensure a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water is nearby just in case there is an accident.

Carelessness with fireworks and summer yard maintenance can also cause injuries to the hands, which require special care. Proper care for a hand injury, according to Dr. Harrison, begins shortly after the injury occurs. For example, if there is a complete amputation of a digit(s), call 911 first and work to control any bleeding. Then, safely collect the amputated parts and keep them moist and cool. However, direct contact between the amputated digit and ice can cause even more damage. Remember, time is important: muscles can be damaged within eight hours if not treated.

Dr. Harrison said they also receive a fair number of patients each year who have been injured while lighting or using an outdoor grill. Most often, these injuries occur when the person is trying to light the grill and a pocket of gas ignites.

"These burns are usually not very deep, but they are awfully painful and can require extensive skin grafts to heal," Dr. Harrison said. Simple steps, such as checking hoses before using a grill, and never using anything other than lighter fluid to try to ignite charcoal, can go a long way toward keeping you safe. Other tips include:

  • Before using the grill, make sure it's at least 10 feet away from other objects, including the house or bushes.
  • Always follow manufacturers' instructions when operating a grill.
  • Never use a match to check for leaks.
  • Keep gas hoses as far away from grease and hot surfaces as possible.
  • Replace nicked or scratched connectors.
  • Check tubes for blockage from insects or grease using a pipe cleaner.
  • Never start a gas grill with the lid closed.
  • Never use barbecue grills indoors.
  • Keep lighter fluid container away from the grill.
  • Utility/Barbeque lighters are not safe for children and should not be left outdoors where the elements may weaken or damage the plastic.
  • Always turn on utility light before you turn on gas or propane.
  • Always shut off propane tank valve when not in use.

At the same time, it is important to avoid getting burned while out in the sun. "Parents need to remember that children's skin is thinner than an adult and they are far more susceptible to getting sunburned," he said. "We recommend using sunscreen with at least a SPF of 35, and reapplying the sunscreen every 30 minutes. Also, you should keep children under one year of age out of the direct sunlight, and avoid using sunscreen on any child under six months of age."

If you or your child does get a sunburn, you should apply cool compresses and moisturize the burned area with an alcohol-free lotion. Do not apply oil or butter and do not use harsh soap scrubs. Remember that pavement burns too. Hot sand or asphalt can severely burn the skin on the bottom of the feet while walking.

For severe lacerations, such as dog bites, focus on stopping or controlling the bleeding and getting the wound clean. If there is a large foreign body still in the wound - a nail, for example - leave it there. Let the medical professionals remove it.

"We will do our best to give the patient the best outcome possible," Dr. Harrison said. "However, there are cases where treatment at the scene can make all the difference in our success."