WILKES-BARRE — In 2011, 200 people a day went to emergency rooms for treatment of fireworks-related injuries during the two weeks before and after the Fourth of July, state statistics show.
Doctors and nurses in Northeastern Pennsylvania say this number can be greatly reduced by taking precautions to keep the summer holiday safe and fun.
One change of behavior, said Henry “Chip” Dunham, director of Emergency Services at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, is to go to community events at which fireworks are staged by professionals. “These folks, towns and sponsors are spending tens of thousands of dollars on these displays that are phenomenal,” he said.
Dr. Ronald Strony, director of emergency medicine at Geisinger Wyoming Valley, said there is no comparison between the professional use of fireworks with personal use when it comes to safety. The only thing you have to do at a public display is enjoy yourself. “The risk is dramatically and exponentially lower,” Strony said.
Gail Malloy, a registered nurse and coordinator of the Injury Prevention Task Force for Emergency Medicine at Hazleton General Hospital, said public display-goers should buy ear plugs — costing only $3 for 10 pair, to protect their hearing — and to stand far away from the firework display.
“The farther away you are, the more you can appreciate the beauty of them,” she said.
Yet, many people continue to light consumer fireworks at home. In 2011 around 17,800 fires were started by consumer fireworks in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association. One preventive measure is to make sure there is running water nearby, Dunham said. “You need to water down these things; otherwise it will cause a brush fire,” he said.
The association’s annual fireworks report says children are most at risk and that sparklers accounted for 34 percent of emergency room fireworks injuries, with 25 percent of the victims being under 15.
Sparklers should not be used at all, said Dunham, but if families do, it is important to make sure children understand “not to touch the glow.” The sparklers burn at 1,000 to 3,000 degrees. “To put that into perspective, you bake a cake at 325 degrees,” Dunham said.
Strony said although sparklers are considered benign things, they are “one of the most dangerous things for kids to hold.”
If a child is going to display sparklers, Malloy offered these safety tips: Supervise the child, have the child wear protective eyeglasses and closed shoes, and ensure that the child stays in one place and holds the sparkler away from the body.
The Wilkes-Barre General Hospital recorded around six to 10 fireworks-related injuries in 2012, while in past years the facility typically saw around 12 to 18. Some victims, said Dunham, now go to urgent care facilities that opened locally in recent years.