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Let's keep all our fingers this Fourth of July

Posted on Jun. 28, 2013 ( comments)

As the night sky already begins to fill with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, Emergency Department physicians are asking people to hold onto all their fingers this Independence Day.

Last year, hospitals in Pierce County treated 34 fireworks-related injuries, up from 26 in 2011. The 354 fireworks-related injuries across Washington state included 11 amputations and one fatality, according to statistics compiled by the state fire marshal.

Interestingly, the Emergency Department at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Wash., sees more injuries in the few days after the Fourth of July, because so many unexploded duds with short fuses are lying around for kids to find.

“The duds are really scary,” said Dr. Tom Hurt, a pediatric physician in the Mary Bridge Emergency Department. “The ones that were half blasted off are found the next day by unsupervised kids. And without anyone watching, they find these things and try to light them.”

Over the years, Dr. Hurt has treated many kids with serious injuries caused by fireworks.

A few years ago, one Pierce County dad took his kids to buy some illegal fireworks. It was a rainy June day, and as they were driving home with the windows cracked open, the child couldn’t wait to set off the fireworks.

“So the kid lights something big, like a cherry bomb, and he decides to throw it out the window,” Dr. Hurt said. “Well, it didn’t make it out the window, and bounced back onto the floorboard. He picked it up and blew his fingers off.”

Other serious injuries are often caused by bottle rockets.

“The bottle rockets scare me the most, to be honest,” Dr. Hurt said. “If people are gathered around, the bottle rocket can tip over. One girl literally got her eye shot out with a bottle rocket.”

A common cause of burn injuries is when fireworks go down clothing, then the clothing catches on fire.

“Even the little sparklers, I’ve seen kids come in with burn injuries,” said Dr. Sara Ahmed, a pediatric physician in the Mary Bridge Emergency Department. “Or one sibling is spinning around and accidently hits the other sibling. Even the small ones can be dangerous.”

The leading cause of fireworks-related injuries is “Holding in Hand” at 34 percent, according to statistics compiled by the state fire marshal. A close runner-up was “Too Close to Lit Fireworks” at 31 percent.

Young males age 8 to 21 are the most likely to be injured. It’s worth noting that both legal and illegal fireworks caused injuries last year.

Leading causes of fireworks-related injuries last year in Washington state:

  • 76 Holding fireworks in hands
  • 69 Too close to lit fireworks
  • 25 Leaning over fireworks
  • 18 Duds-relighting or handling dud
  • 12 Throwing fireworks
  • 9 Unsafe surface for lighting
  • 9 Unknown
  • 6 Tampering with fireworks
  • 2 Children with sparkler (infant to 7 years)

2012 statistics from the state fire marshal:

  • In 24 percent of the injury incidents involving children, there was no adult supervision.
  • Children are 11 times more likely to be injured by fireworks when they are unsupervised, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Children ages 4 and younger are at the highest risk for injuries from sparklers.
  • Seven "sparkler bomb" incidents: Five fires/explosions and two caused facial, torso and hand injuries. "Sparkler bombs" are considered improvised explosive devices, which are illegal to manufacture and possess.
  • Illegal fireworks caused 95 injury incidents, or 49%. Legal fireworks were responsible for 77 incidents, or 36%. Of the 77 incidents involving legal devices, multi-aerials caused 45%, followed by roman candles at 22%. Illegal devices causing injuries include Bottle Rockets at 12% and Public Display Mortars at 14%.

Don’t let your child be a statistic:

  • Follow local laws – fireworks are banned in many cities, including Tacoma. Purchase only legal fireworks, available at approved stands.
  • Only a designated adult should light fireworks.
  • Never throw fireworks and never hold fireworks in your hand.
  • Be sure all unused fireworks, matches and lighters are out of the sight and reach of children.
  • Consider alternatives to fireworks: Watch a public display, use glow-in-the-dark sticks or fiber-optic flashlights. Play with streamers, noise makers, bubble machines or pinatas. Provide patriotic food and music.
Posted in: Tacoma

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