Firework injuries climb as Ohio law allows for more private displays

CPSC said nine deaths and 11,500 injuries caused by fireworks in 2021

As a new Ohio law allows more people to let off fireworks this year, a new report released shows fireworks injuries have increasingly grown in the United States.

Between 2006 and 2021, injuries from fireworks climbed 25% in the U.S., according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Last year, at least nine people died, and an estimated 11,500 were injured in incidents involving fireworks.

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“It’s imperative that consumers know the risks involved in using fireworks, so injuries and tragedies can be prevented. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to watch the professional displays,” said CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric.

CPSC’s report shows:

  • Of the nine U.S. deaths, six were associated with firework misuse, one death was associated with a mortar launch malfunction, and two incidents were associated with unknown circumstances.
  • There were an estimated 11,500 emergency room-treated injuries involving fireworks in 2021 — down from the spike of 15,600 experienced in 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many public displays were cancelled.
  • An estimated 8,500 fireworks-related injuries or 74 percent of the total estimated fireworks-related injuries in 2021 occurred during the 1-month special study period between June 18 and July 18 last year.
  • Young adults 20 to 24 years of age had the highest estimated rate of emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries in 2021.
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Fireworks, BBQs and campfires are a traditional part of patriotic celebrations, yet every year people take needless risks when they celebrate.

“All fireworks, even hand-held sparklers are dangerous,” said Dr. Petra Warner, chief of staff at Shriners Children’s Ohio located at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Campfires are also popular this time of year so it’s a good rule of thumb to practice the ‘circle of safety’ and keep kids at least four feet away from fires at all times.”

According to Shriners Children’s Ohio, third-degree burns can cause blindness and permanent scarring. Last year, the Dayton-based burn hospital treated about 1,000 child patients from 30 states, officials said.

Children are always at risk around residential fireworks, even if they are not the ones handling them, according to Shriners Children’s Ohio. The best way to protect children is to not use fireworks at home. Public fireworks shows operated and produced by trained professionals are safest.

Parents should immediately seek medical attention if a child is injured by fireworks. Call 911 or immediately go to the emergency room.

Nurse Debbie Harrell has worked on the hospital’s burn unit floor and as director of the burn unit for Shriners for the past 37 years. She also travels the nation working with local hospital emergency departments teaching medical personnel how to stabilize a burn patient before transporting to Shriners Children’s Ohio.

“The July 4th is the one holiday that elevates the risk for children,” she said. “Because of all of the parties, campfires and fireworks, we stress safety, including the ‘circle of safety’ to keep kids away from fire pits and prevent injuries.”

Harrell suggested a visual barrier using rope or flour to mark off the four-foot safety zone.

She said she’s surprised that sparklers are marketed as a kid-friendly firework even though it can heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Just bumping into someone can cause serious third-degree burns, she said.

Credit: Cynthia Monaghan

Credit: Cynthia Monaghan

Harrell said most burns from a fireworks injury are in the face, hands and neck and most injured are children younger than 10 years of age.

“We get kids from all over (at the hospital),” Harrell said. “All burn patients need specialized pediatric burn care. We are funded by donations regardless if someone has insurance or not. We provide wrap-around care until it’s not needed anymore.”

She recalled one burn case where a teen-aged boy lit up a firework but it did not ignite. The boy bent over the firework, lit it a second time only for it to take off into his face and detonate in his mouth. Harrell said the boy lived but endured many surgeries, grafts and reconstruction.

In another fireworks case that injured another teen aged boy but 20 years ago was when the boy had put fireworks in his pocket and it ignited causing his pants to catch fire, she said. Harrell said the boy also endured a number of surgeries, skin grafting and very long and painful hospital stay.

Although Ohio changed its fireworks use law this year, Harrell does not foresee there will be a big increase in injuries.

“The Fourth of July is a wonderful and beautiful holiday, but it’s a risky holiday,” she said. “Leave the fireworks displays to the experts.”

The cities of Dayton, Beavercreek, Germantown, Kettering, Oakwood, Fairborn and Vandalia have passed laws banning people from letting off fireworks.

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