Playing it safe with fireworks

Nine-year-old Sabrina Hersh of Chicago has never enjoyed one of those American rites of passage: Waving around a sparkler in celebration of the Fourth of July. That’s because her mom, emergency room doctor Karen Sheehan, so often sees the burns and injuries that result.

Sheehan is director of injury prevention for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. In this case, she says, there’s only one sure-fire way to prevent injury: Keep sparklers—and all other fireworks, for that matter—away from kids.

Sparklers are legal, but still dangerous. They can burn at temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees—high enough to melt gold—and remain hot after the spark is gone, catching clothes on fire or burning skin that comes too close, says the National Safety Charity for Children.

Sheehan says her emergency room sees fireworks-related injuries all summer long, but it peaks around the Fourth. An estimated 10,800 fireworks-related injuries were reported by emergency rooms across the country in 2005, 17 percent of them caused by sparklers. More than half of those sparkler injuries occurred to children under 5. Generally the injuries are to the hands and fingers, but burns to the face, head and eyes also are common. One 8-year-old girl sustained severe burns to her legs when a sparkler ignited her dress, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports on its Web site.

If sparklers are part of your family’s Fourth of July celebration, experts recommend dousing burned-out sparklers in a bucket of sand, tying back hair and securing loose clothing. Or, you can listen to Sheehan, whose No. 1 safety tip is to never let your kids near these things.

“I encourage families to just go to a city-type (display) and get the glow sticks. If that’s all kids have been exposed to, it’s not a big issue. They don’t even think to ask,” she says.

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