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news item Thursday, July 2, 2020 Thursday, July 2, 2020 4:40 PM - Thursday, July 2, 2020 4:40 PM

Shriners Hospitals physicians remind families that there are no "safe" fireworks

The 4th of July Independence Day holiday is upon us, but this year celebrations will look very different. Many communities across the nation have canceled fireworks displays over restrictions on large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, there is an alarming trend this year of amateurs setting off fireworks themselves from backyards and parks, at great risk to the public.

Just this morning, the New York Times reported the following:

"According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2019, an estimated 2,700 children under the age of 15 were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for firework injuries — mostly around the Fourth of July weekend — with 1,100 of those happening among kids under 5.”

“There is no safe firework. To the doctors, nurses, therapists and staff at the Shriners [Hospitals], these are not statistics, these are real children and distraught families who arrive at our hospital with these preventable burns,” said Colleen M. Ryan, M.D., burn surgeon at the Boston Shriners Hospital. “We treat the child’s pain and comfort the parents who often struggle with incredible guilt. This guilt tears at families and relationships. We assist the child that now faces challenges that threatens to change the trajectory of their life. The effects of these injuries last a lifetime, of requiring multiple operations and lengthy rehabilitation, taking time away from school and sports and the fun a growing child should have. There is no safe firework.”

With a lack of professional fireworks displays to enjoy this year, it may be tempting to create your own celebration. Please do not do this. There are safe alternatives to help you celebrate the holiday. Decorate your yard with fairy lights and red, white and blue balloons, and hand out glow sticks to the kids. Get creative and fill mason jars with glow-in-the-dark stars to light up your patio. Silly string, bubbles, flags and ribbon sticks can add to the fun as you honor our country’s independence while keeping your loved ones safe.

The possession and use of all fireworks by private citizens is illegal in many areas. Despite this, in states like Massachusetts, home of the Boston Shriners Hospital, the Office of the State Fire Marshal reports that in the past decade (2010-2019), 33% of individuals treated at Massachusetts emergency rooms for severe burn injuries from fireworks were children age 14 or younger. An additional 22% were young people aged 15-24. These statistics are repeated around the country and are even higher in states without Massachusetts’ strict firework legislation.

Most people do not realize that even basic sparklers can burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The extreme temperature of even this simplest firework can lead to deep boring contact burns when touched or stepped on, extensive burns when clothing or hair ignites, and eye injuries when little hot flecks fly off the tip into the unprotected eye.

Even with precautions, accidents can happen. Stephen Wolf, M.D., chief of staff at the Shriners Hospital in Galveston, recommends parents do three simple things prior to bringing their children to a hospital for burn care.

“First, of course, extinguish the fire. Immediately – within 15 minutes – immerse the burned area in room temperature water, to prevent the burn from going deeper,” he said. “Finally, cover the burn with a dry dressing.”

These three actions will prevent the burn from deepening and getting infected prior to treatment by a pediatric burn specialist.

If a child does sustain a burn injury of any size, the knowledgeable staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children can provide the best possible outcome. Shriners Hospitals has four pediatric burn centers across the nation, in Boston, Cincinnati, Galveston and Sacramento. All four are an excellent choice for treatment of burns, large and small, for children.