TRADOC Safety Office
Fort Monroe, Virginia
The Fourth of July is a festive time of year. Many of us get the day off and have cookouts or parties, and some cities and towns hold festivals. Of course, no Independence Day celebration would be complete without a fireworks display. From bottle rockets to Roman candles, fireworks have entertained and captivated our minds since we were small children.
Unfortunately, a lot of folks don’t take the major hazards related to fireworks seriously. Some people enjoy lighting firecrackers or cherry bombs and holding them in their hand as long as possible before throwing them — sometimes at each other! People just don’t seem to understand what can happen with these unsafe practices.
Many of those who have used fireworks have a close-call story to tell. My father had multiple fireworks incidents when he was younger, but one in particular stands out. When he was 15, he and his friends from the neighborhood decided to take some Roman candles to a nearby field. It was a particularly dry summer that year, and the field had tall grass — up to his knees at some points. So they wouldn’t be seen by police, they chose a spot that was out of sight from the road. They lit their Roman candles and started shooting them almost horizontally. Then, as some foolish people do, they started shooting them toward one another.
For about an hour and a half that night, they ran around that field having fun. Then, a scary series of events took place. One of my father’s friends had one of the Roman candle’s flaming orbs get caught inside his T-shirt sleeve. Almost simultaneously, another friend was struck in the eye by one of the colored fireballs. The two injured teenagers and one other stopped shooting their Roman candles so they could check how badly they were injured. The other three boys, including my father, continued playing.
About 10 minutes later, my father inadvertently shot a few of the orbs into an area of thicker, drier grass. Those two orbs caused the lower portion of the grass to ignite, and, almost instantaneously, the entire corner of the field was on fire. When they saw the blaze, they immediately ran away. The majority of the field eventually ended up burning. Fortunately, no property, other than the empty field, was damaged, and none of them were caught by police. My father and his friends were lucky to escape this near miss. With the fire spreading as quickly as it did, it could’ve very easily surrounded them, trapping them in the field.
Still, there were some medical consequences to their careless behavior. The young man who had the orb shot up his sleeve had to go to the emergency room with third-degree burns across the underside of his upper arm, along his armpit and down a few inches on the side of his torso. The doctors had to give him skin grafts, and he spent a week in the burn unit to make sure the injury was kept clean. For as long as he and my father kept in contact, he had bad scars all along the grafted areas.
The other young man — the one that was hit in the eye by the orb — also had to go to the emergency room. He suffered permanent damage to his eye and eyelid and had to have surgery that night. Sadly, his eye had sustained too much damage to ever recover, so it had to be removed. It was replaced with a glass eye that he has to live with for the rest of his life. He had to spend two weeks in the hospital recovering from the surgery and the burns to his eyelid.
That night, two people’s lives were forever changed. But despite the horrible injuries his friends suffered, my father continued using fireworks unsafely. Eventually, though, he saw the error of his ways.
If you plan to shoot fireworks, please keep my father’s story in mind. When used properly, fireworks can add excitement to a celebration. In the hands of the careless, however, the festivities could end badly.FYI
Before lighting a single fuse, make sure fireworks are legal to possess and use in your city and state. The National Council on Fireworks Safety website has a directory of state laws regarding fireworks, including what items are permitted and prohibited for use. It’s also a good idea to ask your local fire or police department if fireworks are legal in your area. Although fireworks may be legal in your state, there may be reasons — such as a burn ban due to dry weather — why their use is prohibited in some areas. The NCFS also offers the following tips:
• Use fireworks outdoors only.
• Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
• Always have a garden hose or bucket of water handy.
• Only use fireworks as intended. Don't try to alter them or combine them.
• Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
• Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter, and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
• Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a designated shooter.
• Only persons over the age of 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type.
• Never use homemade fireworks or illegal explosives: They can kill you! Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
For more information, visit the NCFS’s website at www.fireworkssafety.org