Fireworks safety this Fourth of July

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It’s better to be safe than sorry this Fourth of July, even though statistics show the number of fireworks-related injuries has significantly decreased from 9,600 in 2011 to 8,700 in 2012.


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s annual fireworks report showed that 74 percent of the injured people were male, and children younger than the age of 15 accounted for approximately 30 percent of the 8,700 injuries. Hands and fingers were injured the most often, at 41 percent.


“Luckily, most (injuries) are burns and we are able to take care of them with no surgical intervention,” said Dr. Tom Pirosko, assistant director of the emergency room at Washington Hospital. “(But) even burns, if significant, can affect the function of the hand for the rest of your life.”


William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks in Ohio, said most fireworks-related injuries result from misuse and abuse. “Unfortunately, some people don’t care, and that’s what causes it,” he said.


Pirosko recalled one incident at the hospital several years ago when a patient lit a firework and before he could throw it, the firework exploded. When the patient came to the emergency room, the physicians had to amputate his hand.


As emergency physicians, Pirosko said, “the best recommendation we have is for people to watch professionally-done fireworks.” But if you do use them, he warned, make sure it’s an adult handling the fireworks and that you buy them from an approved facility. “Read labels, make sure (you have) a bucket of water, and light one at a time,” he said. “Make sure (you) dispose of them properly.”


State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in a news release that although fireworks are a Fourth of July tradition, they are dangerous and their use is strictly limited by state law.


“The only fireworks permitted for the public’s use are sparklers and devices containing extremely small amounts of powder; no more than in a toy-pistol cap,” he said. Those items can be purchased at stands found throughout the area, which must have a permit. Items such as firecrackers, Roman candles, cherry bombs and M-80s are illegal in Pennsylvania. While they are legally sold in Ohio, Pennsylvania residents could find themselves in trouble with the law if they attempt to use them here.


According to state police, tall display fireworks that are shot into the air and burst into a large, colorful display are prohibited for use by consumers. These aerial-based fireworks are sold at facilities licensed by the state Department of Agriculture and may only be purchased by out-of-state residents with identification or in-state residents with a municipal permit.


“Fireworks are a highlight of Independence Day celebrations and can provide great entertainment when purchased and used legally,” Agriculture Secretary George Greig said in the same news release. “Stay safe by buying fireworks only from reputable in-state dealers.”


Fireworks also have to pass a series of strict tests in order to meet the American Fireworks Standard.


The fireworks testing began in 1994, according to Weimer, and approximately 63 percent of those products passed. In 1994, he continued, the U.S. imported 117 million pounds of fireworks, resulting in approximately 12,500 injuries. By 2011, approximately 93 percent of the products passed and the U.S. had doubled its amount of imported fireworks while the number of injuries had decreased.


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