It’s the Fourth of July weekend. Have you made a visit to the emergency room yet?
Many will. As certain as the annual holiday are the burns and injuries that go with it.
At the University of Kansas Hospital, where the burn unit and emergency department were geared up Friday, staff had handled several long before dark.
“It’s people determining how long you can hold onto an M-80 firecracker before you throw it,” said Dennis Allin, chairman of emergency medicine, who works nearly every July 4 holiday. “Or people looking down the tube to find out why it didn’t go off.”
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A patient earlier in the day had bent over a mortar and took a blast in one of his eyes, Allin said.
“Eye injuries are awful,” he said. “There’s not much we can do. That vision’s not coming back.”
In other early weekend injuries treated at the hospital, a 19-year-old suffered hand burns, and a 14-year-old had burns on his body, arms and legs. Both were treated and released.
Although young adult males are often the victims, Allin said, the ages of the injured range widely. Children get burned playing with sparklers. Older youngsters and adults throw bottle rockets and other devices at each other, or they hold devices and burn or damage their fingers and hands.
Many think they know more about larger-scale fireworks devices than they do, he said.
“The fuses go much faster than they thought they would,” Allin said. “A lot of this is not something laypeople should handle.”
Michelle Czerw, a nurse at the hospital’s Burnett Burn Center, said the unit works closely with the emergency department during the July 4 weekend in a fast-track program to quickly assess burn injuries.
A victim was in transit from the Lake of the Ozarks area to the burn center Friday after he lit one device and unintentionally blew up a stack of fireworks.
“People think they’re invincible,” she said. “We will get many more through the night and over the weekend.”
Another danger, said Tama Sawyer, managing director of the hospital’s Poison Control Center, involves toddlers ingesting small devices, such as smoke bombs and snakes. They’ll even pick up debris on the ground the next day.
“If you look at fireworks, they’re really colorful,” Sawyer said. “Toddlers want to taste things.”
The situation will be similar at other hospitals here and across the country.
An estimated 7,400 fireworks-related injuries were treated at U.S. hospital emergency departments during a one-month study period in 2013, from June 21 to July 21, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 40 percent of the injured were younger than 15, and more than half were younger than 20.
Sparklers and bottle rockets weren’t as benign as many think: They accounted for some 2,600 of the injuries treated at emergency rooms. An additional 800 injuries were from firecrackers.
Hands and fingers sustained 36 percent of the injuries; 22 percent were to the head, face and ears; 16 percent were to the eyes; and 14 percent were to the legs.
Burns were the most common type of injury except to the eyes, which sustained lacerations and foreign objects.
The agency also reported eight fireworks-related deaths that weren’t occupational. The circumstances sound like cautionary tales:
“A 54-year-old male perished when he held a launching tube in his hand at chest level and ignited an altered mortar shell. The explosion blew the base out of the tube and impacted the victim’s chest.”
“A 42-year-old male died of an explosive injury to his head when he leaned over to light a firework with a cigarette.”
Here are guidelines from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Comission about firing off fireworks at home (assuming it’s legal in your town):
Don’t allow children to play with or ignite fireworks. Adults should supervise all fireworks, including sparklers, which can burn at temperatures of 2,000 degrees.
Never try to relight or pick up fireworks that haven’t fully ignited.
Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby. Douse spent devices with plenty of water before discarding.
Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly. Don’t place your body directly over a device when lighting the fuse.
Don’t shoot off fireworks in metal or glass containers.
Don’t point or throw fireworks at another person.