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Simple fireworks precautions can keep your holiday safe

July 01, 2015 | John Murray

With Anaheim among the local cities to permit the sale of fireworks for personal use, UCI Health experts say the safest way to view pyrotechnics is at a professional show.

Nearly a third of Orange County’s cities now permit the sale of so-called “safe-and-sane” fireworks, a term Dr. Nicole Bernal recently told the Orange County Register is a misnomer.

No such thing as 'safe and sane'

“We work with a lot of firemen who stress that there’s no such thing as safe-and-sane fireworks,” says Bernal, a surgeon and burn care specialist at the UCI Health Regional Burn Center. “They’re all dangerous.”

Burn center director Dr. Victor C. Joe agrees.

“There is no such thing as a safe-and-sane firework,” he says. “For a brief moment of excitement, there’s a real danger of causing someone else or ourselves lifelong injury.”

Avoid firework injuries

Those who choose to buy fireworks should keep the following in mind:

  • Always use fireworks outside and keep a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of accidents.
  • Kids should never play with fireworks.
  • Even sparklers can be dangerous. Sparklers can reach 1,800° Fahrenheit or 982° Celsius. Make sure to use them outside and away from the face, clothing and hair.
  • Don't hold fireworks in your hand or light them close to your body.
  • Light one firework at a time and never relight a dud.
  • Don't allow kids to pick up pieces of fireworks. Some may still be ignited and can explode at any time.
  • Soak all fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them in the trash can.
  • If burned, don’t put ice on the skin. Rinse the burn with cool water for up to 10 minutes.

Protecting the eyes

And don’t forget about eye safety.

“Always wear eye protection when handling fireworks,” says Dr. Sam Garg, an ophthalmologist and medical director of the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute. “Never point or throw fireworks at anyone, even sparklers. Also, make sure children and other observers are a safe distance from the live fireworks.”

If an eye injury occurs, don't allow your child to touch or rub their eye, as this may cause even more damage, Garg says. You can gently flush the eye with eyewash and immediately take the child to an emergency room to prevent further injury. 

He and colleagues have treated patients suffering from foreign objects lodged in their corneas, flash burns, and damage to surrounding tissue like eyelids and tear ducts, as well as ruptured eye globes.

Preventing campfire burns

Other summertime traditions require caution, as well.

Injuries sustained by 2-year old Mikaela Halvorsen underscore the need to take care around smoldering campfires, barbecues and fire pits. The toddler was burned during a recent family camping trip to Joshua Tree when she came too close and tripped backwards into a campfire that appeared to be extinguished.

Adults and children alike may assume a lack flames or smoke means the fire pit or campfire poses no risk.

Injuries are preventable, says Joe. He offers some tips:

  • Don’t bury hot charcoals in sand. It might extinguish the flames, but coals can smolder for up to 24 hours – and sand locks in the heat.
  • To safely extinguish coals, drench them in water, wait five minutes and drench them again. If water is not available, simply let the coals burn out, without burying them.
  • If burned, don’t put ice on the skin. It can cause damage, especially in children, whose skin is thinner than adults’ skin. Rinse the burn with cool water for up to 10 minutes, then cover it with a cool washcloth or towel.

Taking a few simple precautions can ensure a safe holiday and summer for you and your family.

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