7 Tips for Safer Fireworks

Fireworks are a huge part of most Independence Day festivities across the country. Taking just a few precautions may keep the celebration going—and everyone out of the hospital.

Sarah Ruff, MD, a UNC Health family medicine physician, has seven suggestions for keeping yourself, family and friends safe this year.

1. The best plan: Leave fireworks to the experts.

The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to watch a show put on by licensed experts who know what they are doing, Dr. Ruff says. Professionals trained and licensed in pyrotechnics know how to keep themselves and everyone who is watching safe, and how to avoid unintended damage to property.

“You’re not supposed to shoot fireworks off at home,” she says. “They’re dangerous.”

A bonus to not going the DIY route? Community fireworks displays aren’t just safe and free, unlike expensive home fireworks, but they’re also more impressive than a backyard show.

2. Make sure your fireworks were manufactured legally and store them properly.

If you do choose to buy and explode your own fireworks, be sure they were manufactured safely. Most consumer fireworks are imported, but they are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Make sure any fireworks you buy have a manufacturer’s label featuring warning labels about hazards and functions of the device. Legal fireworks will adhere to safety measures, such as specified fuse lengths and requirements for powder contents.

“Store them away from flammable areas, including stoves, heaters and grills,” Dr. Ruff says. “It’s a good idea to keep them locked up, with the same care as you would give firearms.”

3. Set fireworks off safely and aim them carefully.

The person setting off the fireworks should be away from other people and any buildings or trees.

“Make sure you’re wearing eye protection,” Dr. Ruff says. “And be careful that you are aiming fireworks away from houses and woods, anything that could catch on fire.”

4. Make plans to keep children safe.

Children younger than age 5 account for more than half of all fireworks-related injuries, so watching them vigilantly is critical.

“Make sure you have someone designated to keep an eye on the children,” Dr. Ruff says. “Just like being around a pool, you need to have an adult who’s in charge of watching the kids.”

Because alcoholic beverages are often part of celebrations, have a plan to ensure that the designated adult is not impeded or under the influence.

If there are numerous children at the festivities, you might want to designate several adults to watch them. Also, since fireworks are set off after dark, it may be harder to keep up with children. You might consider giving each child a glow stick, or having them wear glowing necklaces, bracelets or other trinkets that will help you spot them in the dark.

Don’t let children run toward where the fireworks are aimed.

“They’re still hot and can burn even after they have exploded,” Dr. Ruff says.

Keep a bucket of water handy for dunking dead fireworks before putting them in the trash or before someone accidently touches them.

5. Take care of pets, too.

Dogs are famously not fans of fireworks. Keep all your pets in a safe place where they can’t hurt themselves or others, such as a crate or a bedroom that’s not near fireworks.

“Some pets get freaked out by fireworks,” Dr. Ruff says. “You don’t want them to run away, and you don’t want them to bite someone because they are scared.”

6. Beware the combination of sparklers and kids.

Handheld sparklers may seem like a safe option for children, but they can reach 2,000 degrees. Sparklers account for 25 percent of visits to the emergency department for fireworks injuries, Dr. Ruff says.

The safest policy is not to let children touch sparklers at all, Dr. Ruff says. But, if you allow children to handle them, “you might get the kids to wear gardening gloves,” she says. “Make sure their hair is tied back, and that they hold their sparklers away from themselves and others. Have a bucket of water to dunk the sticks in when they’ve finished burning.”

Consider using confetti poppers or glow sticks instead of handheld sparklers, she says.

Some people enjoy the little explosion from bang snaps (also called poppers, whippersnappers and other names). These contain small amounts of gravel and silver fulminate wrapped in paper and may be a safer way to enjoy celebratory noise.

But know this: “They can still be hot,” Dr. Ruff says.

Make sure children don’t mistake these or any fireworks for candy. If you think a child has eaten any fireworks, call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222.

7. Know what to do in case of a burn.

For mild burns, run the damaged skin under cool water, not ice water, Dr. Ruff says. If the burn is large, very painful or blistering, seek medical attention right away.

“You will need to decide if the burn needs to be seen in an urgent care clinic or emergency room,” Dr. Ruff says. “Sometimes it depends on where you have been burned. If it’s on your face or hands, or especially your eyes, you’re more likely to need to be evaluated” by a medical professional.

If you have questions about keeping your family safe, talk to your doctor or find one near you.