Stay Safe This Fourth of July!


With the July 4th holiday fast approaching, many people are planning star-spangled celebrations – complete with sparklers, bottle rockets and firecrackers. But every year at this time, thousands of people across the country – including some in the Baltimore area – end up in the emergency room with injuries from fireworks. Some people lose limbs, others may die from their injuries.

According to a 2015 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 32 percent of fireworks-related injuries were to hands and fingers, another 4 percent to arms, 25 percent to heads, faces and ears, and 16 percent to eyes. More than 60 percent of the injuries were burns.

The largest group affected were young people under the age of 20; they accounted for 42 percent of the injuries treated in emergency departments. Sixty-one percent of those injured were male.

The use and sale of consumer fireworks in Maryland is largely illegal. Baltimore City is among the jurisdictions to ban all fireworks and ground-based sparklers. But, people still use them to celebrate Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.

Far too often, emergency room physicians and surgeons are called upon to treat patients who suffer devastating injuries because they don’t fully appreciate how dangerous fireworks can be. The explosive force of a firecracker that goes off in your hand often causes injuries that a surgeon, regardless of experience or ability, will be unable to repair. Injuries can include broken bones, damaged nerves, bad burns and loss of fingers. A person’s ability to work and use their hand without pain may be changed forever.

Many hours of surgery, rehabilitation and reconstruction are often required, not to mention time off work, for injuries that could have been easily prevented if people heeded the advice of fireworks safety experts: Never light fireworks in your hand. Don’t try to re-light or pick up fireworks that didn’t go off. Never throw fireworks.

Or perhaps even better yet, leave the fireworks to the professionals.

Even sparklers can cause serious injury, not only to the hand but also to the eye. The tips of sparklers are often the same temperature as an arc welder. They will cause immediate damage to tissues they come in contact with, including the eyes, hands and other parts of the body, which may result in blindness, permanent scarring and disfigurement.

As an orthopedic surgeon at Shock Trauma who treats patients with traumatic hand injuries from fireworks mishaps and other causes, I urge you to skip the backyard pyrotechnics this holiday weekend and head out with your families to watch one of the many public fireworks displays in the Baltimore area.

If you do choose to include fireworks in your July 4th celebrations, here are some additional tips from safety experts:

● Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks

● Use fireworks only outdoors

● Light only one firework at a time, and move quickly away from the firework

● Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse

● After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire

Dr. Pensy is a Trauma Orthopedic Surgeon at University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center and assistant professor of orthopedics at University of Maryland School of Medicine.