Fireworks safety important on July 4th

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Red, white and blue-clad fireworks tents are shooting up like sparklers, as the time for celebrating America’s independence with pyrotechnics, from a safe distance of 30 feet away, is upon us.


Dr. Tony Aprea, director of emergency medicine at Washington Hospital, treats a handful of patients with fireworks-related injuries each July 4th.


“We mostly see burns, first- or second-degree burns on the hands,” Aprea said.


His observations reflect the Consumer Products Safety Commission 2012 Firework Annual Report. According to the report released last year, 8,700 injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency that year and 41 percent of those injuries affect the hands and fingers.


Dr. Brian Popko, medical director of the Canonsburg Hospital emergency department, observed similar seasonal accidents, adding eye-related injuries are also common. According to the report, 19 percent of fireworks-related wounds affect the eyes.


“When working with fireworks on the ground, wear eye protection,” Popko said.


He also instructs users to store fireworks in a responsible manner, recalling a grisly accident in which a patient unintentionally ignited fireworks in his pocket.


A majority of wounds occurred when handlers attempted to relight faulty fuses or reuse fireworks, Aprea said. He advises people to avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing and have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher on hand.


Evan Smith, a TNT Fireworks employee, works at a tent in the parking lot of Wal-Mart Supercenter at Trinity Point. He explained that the company offers thin wooden foot-long rods used to light firework fuses.


“So you don’t have to get close to the wicks,” Smith added.


The tent offers everything from sparklers to the largest ground fireworks allowable without a permit in Pennsylvania.


Pennsylvania allows only “ground and hand-held sparking devices,” “novelties,” and “toy caps” without a permit, according to the state police website.


“The only fireworks permitted for the public’s use are sparklers and devices containing extremely small amounts of powder,” said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan in a press release. He stressed that items such as firecrackers, Roman candles, cherry bombs and M-80s are illegal.


John Tokarczyk, an agent in the state attorney general office’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said aerial fireworks require a municipal permit to set off.


Tokarczyk said when Pennsylvania residents intend to buy large-scale fireworks in other states, like nearby Ohio, they must be prepared. “Those people should have a permit from their township in hand,” Tokarczyk said.


Basil Merenda, chief deputy of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, emphasized that underpinnings of all firework regulations are for protection of state residents.


“Have fun,” Merenda said. “But don’t jeopardize anyone’s safety.”


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