How to safely use fireworks this Fourth of July


Despite warnings to leave fireworks to the experts, backyard fireworks on the Fourth of July are as traditional as barbecues and burgers.

And so are trips to local emergency rooms.

Fireworks-related injuries at Erlanger hospital nearly tripled within the past four years - from four each in 2013 and 2014 to eight in 2015 and 11 in 2016.

"The most important tip is to leave fireworks to the professionals and enjoy the show," says Marisa Moyers, a Children's Hospital at Erlanger registered nurse.

Memorial Hospital nurse practitioner Rob McVie says he sees at least one fireworks-related injury every time fireworks are used during a holiday, including New Year's Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Even sparklers injured the hands of some adults and children who held them, he says.

Sparklers can reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees, which can cause severe burns, said Chattanooga Police public information officer Rob Simmons.

The safe discharge of fireworks is allowed for residents who live within the unincorporated areas of Hamilton County. Those who live in a municipality within Hamilton County should check with their local City Hall to see if fireworks are allowed to be used. For example, the use of fireworks is prohibited in the City of Lakesite.

Simmons said it is legal in Chattanooga City limits to shoot fireworks that do not require a pyrotechnic license.

He also added that it is unlawful to set off fireworks after 11:30 p.m. except on New Year's Eve, when the time is extended until 12:30 a.m.

McVie recommends using eye protection when handling fireworks. He says sparks from bottle rockets can cause eye damage as severe as permanent vision loss.

Flight paramedic Matthew Roy at LifeForce transports at least three people a year to the hospital because of injuries related to fireworks, he says.

And it's not just contact injuries associated with fireworks.

On average, pyrotechnics start 18,500 fires annually in the United States, leading to an annual average of three deaths and 40 civilian injuries.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends leaving all fireworks to the professionals.

But the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has approved certain fireworks for consumer use, and full-time stores and pop-up vendors will sell tens of thousands of bottle rockets, Roman candles, mortars and missiles leading up to the holiday, so keeping them out of the hands of revelers is probably not realistic.

But following a few commonsense rules can help to avoid hazards, says Nancy Blogin, president of the National Council on Fireworks Safety.

She advises designating one person to light the fireworks - someone who knows each firework, how it works and how to light it. That person should also be aware of the people and objects around the fireworks and keep a safe distance.

FIREWORKS SAFETY TIPS

- Always have a responsible adult supervise all firework activities.

- Do not give fireworks to children. 

- Remember that sparklers are not a safer option for children of any age. The most common fireworks injuries come from sparklers. 

- Always have a bucket of water, fire extinguisher or water hose nearby. 

- Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water. 

- Only use fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from buildings and vehicles. Do not use fireworks over dry grass. 

- Light only one firework at a time and move away quickly. 

- Do not wear loose clothing while using fireworks. 

- Never hold fireworks in your hand or place your body directly over a firework when lighting the fuse. 

- Follow manufacturer warning labels on all fireworks. Do not hold fireworks after they have been lit. 

- Only use fireworks as intended. Don't try to alter them or combine them. 

- Do not mix alcohol usage and fireworks. 

- Do not aim fireworks near crowds, homes, or businesses. 

- If you have pets, especially dogs, please remember to keep them secured in a quiet part of your residence to prevent unnecessary nervousness or discomfort. It may also help to leave a radio or TV on to drown out unnecessary noise. 

Sources: Erlanger hospital and Chattanooga Police Department