Fireworks Safety


This article is part of the #STCPreventionMatters campaign from the University of Maryland Medical Center. For more information about the campaign and the Center for Injury Prevention and Policy, visit:

Every year, fireworks are a leading cause of severe injury to people all over the United States. In 2016, there were 11,100 emergency room visits due to fireworks-related injuries; four of these resulted in death. Children under the age of 15 represented over 30 percent of those injuries. Unfortunately, these numbers haven’t changed much in the past 15 years.

As we begin the summer season and near the Fourth of July holiday, we are again called to pay close attention to firework safety. In fact, approximately 8,000 of all fireworks-related injuries occurred during the months of June and July. That is an average of over 250 people a day!

Fireworks-related injuries are most often caused by sparklers and firecrackers. In 2016, sparklers caused 900 injuries, and firecrackers caused 1,300 injuries. Even bottle rockets were hazardous enough to cause 400 people to seek medical treatment. More than one in three fireworks-related injuries seen in emergency rooms were to the hands and fingers; the most common injuries were burns. Sparklers can burn at up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hot enough to cause full thickness burns in an instant. Fireworks can also cause

severe injury to the eyes. Sometimes, they can even cause blindness.

While most injuries treated in the emergency department are minor burns, others are quite severe. This is often the case with explosive fireworks. Even a small firecracker held in a clenched fist can result in devastating injuries to the hand. This can require fingers, and sometimes even the entire hand, to be amputated. Furthermore, fireworks can also cause broken bones, nerve damage and horrible pain.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a few safety tips. These include:

•Never allow young children to play with or light fireworks

•Always have adult supervision

•Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that did not go off

•Never point or aim fireworks at a person

•Never detonate or light fireworks in a closed container

•Soak any fireworks that have been used in water

In Maryland, practically all fireworks that are not part of a public display are illegal. Baltimore City, in particular, outlaws all types of fireworks and ground-based sparklers. Please check your local restrictions and county laws regarding the use of any fireworks prior to use, or better yet, leave it to the professionals. Please use common sense, and have a Happy Fourth of July and summer of 2018!

Reference: Tu, Yongling. 2016 Fireworks Annual Report, US Consumer Product Safety Commission

Raymond Pensy, MD, is an associate professor of orthopaedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and an orthopaedic surgeon with the Division of Orthopaedic Traumatology at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He specializes in hand and reconstructive microsurgery and a substantial portion of his practice is committed to limb salvage.