Playing With Fire: Fireworks Show Accident Focuses Attention on Safety

Medical experts share some tips on dealing with the festive explosives

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It’s no surprise that in the days leading up to and including July 4, doctors see a spike in emergency room visits due to fireworks injuries. Most, they say, are preventable.

Last year, in the thirty days surrounding July 4, emergency rooms across the country logged over 5,000 visits due to fireworks-related injuries. Even fireworks shows overseen by professionals aren’t perfectly safe: yesterday, a planned show in California’s Simi Valley injured at least 28 bystanders when the fireworks exploded into the crowd by accident. With more fireworks shows likely to light up the sky in the coming summer weeks, TIME spoke with doctors from Simi Valley about how to stay safe when playing with fire.

Even sparklers can burn The popular metal wands that shoot off burning sparks on one end are often considered child-friendly, but Dr. Brian Johnston, Emergency Room Medical Director at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, says that they are more dangerous than parents think. The wands burn at very high temperatures — up to 2,000 degrees — and kids can easily burn their hands or faces by accident.

Don’t store firecrackers in your pocket Dr. Thomas Waskiewicz, emergency room physician at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, says that because the poppers are so small, it’s easy to forget they’re still explosives. People make the mistake of storing them in their pockets — which can result in a “pocket full of fire” — or throwing them at friends, both of which can result in serious burns.

Put some distance between you and the firecracker when lighting it Waskiewicz says that many people suffer facial burns when they try to re-light a firework or fail to squat or turn to the side while lighting it. The explosive might relight more quickly than expected, putting you at risk of serious burns.

Plan ahead for injuries. If you’re planning to light your own fireworks, have a bucket of cool water ready to provide emergency relief for burns, says Johnston. And although there are numerous home remedies for burns, it’s safer to treat the injury at the emergency room. If someone’s clothes catch on fire, make sure they stop, drop, and roll to put out the flames.

Be alert at public fireworks displays. Though accidents are rare when professionals are running the show, it’s wise to be cautious when sitting in large crowds. When the fireworks display in Simi Valley turned chaotic, the crowds dispersed in all directions, causing a stampede. Along with burns and eardrum ruptures from the blast, local emergency rooms treated injuries due to trampling by panicked bystanders. When scoping out a seat for large public gatherings, including a fireworks show, Johnston says it’s a good idea to put some distance between your family and the masses, and to be aware of the nearest exit, in case a quick getaway becomes necessary.