Summer safety tips for fireworks and fire pits

July 02, 2013

Summer means trips to the beach and Independence Day fireworks. The staff at UCI Health has a few tips to keep you and your children out of harm’s way and out of the emergency room.

Several Orange and Los Angeles county cities permit firework sales. Dr. Nicole Bernal, a surgeon in the UCI Health Regional Burn Center, says even legal fireworks labeled “safe-and-sane” pose potential danger if misused.

“They’re still fireworks and can cause significant burns,” she says.

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. Make sure to use them outside and away from the face, clothing and hair. Sparklers can reach 1,800° Fahrenheit (982° Celsius)
  • 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.

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 observer are a safe distance from the live fireworks.”

If an eye injury occurs, don't allow your child to touch or rub it, 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 whether to prevent further injury. 

Such injuries are potentially serious. People have lost not only their vision to firework injuries, but sometimes their eye, Garg says.

The bottom line, according to Bernal and Garg, it’s better to go to a public show and let the professionals handle the fireworks.

Hidden danger in fire pits

While Independence Day comes and goes, families barbecue and go to the beach all summer. Keeping your children away from the hot barbecue is a no-brainer. Less obvious is the danger posed by beach fire pits.

Fire pits can smolder for up to 24 hours despite being covered with sand, which may lock in the heat even if the flames are out, says Bernal. Each year, UCI Health treats dozens of children and adults who step or fall into seemingly extinguished fire pits.

She says adults can take some simple and crucial steps to reduce the risk of fire pit burn injuries to children.

  • 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.
  • Sand-covered coals are a hidden hazard, especially to children who may view a fire pit as a sandbox.
  • 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.
  • Be aware of your environment, especially with children around. Treat fire pits as you would a pool or anything else dangerous and exercise similar caution around them. Watch for embers emanating from fire pits.
  • Always assume there are hot coals at the bottom of a fire pit.
  • If burned, don’t put ice on the skin. It can cause damage, especially in children, whose skin is thinner than adults’. Rinse the burn with cool water for up to 10 minutes, then cover it with a cool washcloth or towel.
  • Take the victim immediately to the nearest emergency room.

Following these precautions can help ensure a safe summer for you and your family.

UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 412-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 12 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center features Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and is the primary teaching hospital for UCI Health School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County.