Best backyard fireworks are none at all; 11,500 people end up in ERs last year, so leave it to the pros


COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Franklin County Dog Shelter and Grandview Heights Division of Fire, joined forces in the Shelter’s back yard today to educate Ohioans about the dangers of backyard fireworks.

Ohioans are urged NOT to use backyard fireworks because of the high fire danger and the risk of personal injury – specifically to young children.

According to the CSPC 2021 Fireworks Annual Report released this week, an estimated 11,500 people were treated in emergency departments for firework-related injuries. An estimated 8,500 fireworks-related injuries, or 74 percent of people treated, occurred during the one-month period surrounding the Fourth of July Holiday.

Injuries to children under the age of 15 accounted for 29 percent of the estimated firework-related injuries. The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers (an estimated 31 percent); legs (an estimated 15 percent); eyes (an estimated 14 percent or 1,610 eye injuries); head, face, and ears (an estimated 21 percent); trunk (an estimated 10 percent); and arms (an estimated 8 percent).

“Many parents believe the myth that these products can be used safely or that smaller fireworks such as bottle rockets and sparklers are fun and safe,” explains Dr. Leah Middelberg, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who specializes in injury prevention. “However, bottle rockets cause almost 60% of fireworks-related eye injuries and are the most common cause of fireworks-related structure fires. Sparklers burn at nearly 20000F, which can result in an instant skin burn and can easily ignite clothing. Two-thirds of sparkler-related injuries occur in children younger than 5 years.”

Eric Rathburn, of Columbus, knows too well the importance of avoiding backyard fireworks displays. He was injured by a firework misfire during a pre-July 4th party in 2009. Like many victims of fireworks injuries, Rathburn was an innocent bystander. The firework flew through the crowd, hitting his glasses and knocking him backwards to the ground. The force broke his glasses, cutting his right eye and causing permanent damage.

“My glasses had flown off of me as I hit the ground. It felt like someone had punched me in the eye. After that I did not see anything,” said Rathburn. “I no longer watch any fireworks. I tell everyone I know that they should stay away from backyard fireworks.”

“Fireworks pose a threat to our pets, farm animals and wildlife. They trigger their fight-or-flight response,” said Kaye Persinger, Director of the Franklin County Animal Care & Control, Dog Shelter. “This often creates overflows at shelters and medical facilities and is a burden to animals, their humans and taxpayers.”

Fireworks facts

• In 2021, an estimated 11,500 people were treated in emergency departments for firework-related injuries.

• There were 9 non-occupational fireworks-related deaths in 2021.

• 8,500 of the injuries (74 percent) occurred during a one-month period around the Fourth of July Holiday.

• The size of the fireworks product is no indication of the amount of the explosive material inside it.

• The major causes of injuries are due to delayed or early fireworks explosions, errant flight paths of rockets, debris from aerial fireworks, and mishandling of sparklers.

• Sparklers (1,100), firecrackers (1,500), and reloadable shells (400) accounted for the most injuries during the one-month period around the Fourth of July Holiday.

• The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers (an estimated 31 percent); legs (15 percent); eyes (14 percent or 1,610 eye injuries); head, face, and ears (21 percent); trunk (10 percent); and arms ( 8 percent).

• Sparklers, often given to young children, burn at 1,200 degrees or even hotter—hot enough to melt copper.

• 9 percent of injuries were to children under the age of five

• Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for approximately 29 percent of the total injuries. Young adults, 20-24 years old, had the highest estimated rate of emergency department-treated, injuries.

• Children 0 to 4 years of age had an estimated rate of emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries of 4.1 injuries per 100,000 people. Older teens, 15 to 19 years of age, had an estimated rate of 2.9 injuries per 100,000 people.

• Of the fireworks-related injuries sustained, 59 percent were to males, and 41 percent were to females.

Tip to prevent injuries

Prevent Blindness has these tips to help prevent fireworks-related injuries:

• Do not purchase, use or store fireworks of any type.

• Be aware that even sparklers are dangerous and cause nearly half of fireworks injuries in children five years old and younger last year.

• Protect yourself, your family and your friends by avoiding fireworks.

• Attend only authorized public fireworks displays conducted by licensed operators, but be aware that even professional displays can be dangerous

• Support policies that ban the importation, general sale and indiscriminate usage of fireworks by children and adults

Alternatives to fireworks

Prevent Blindness offers alternative ideas to celebrate the holiday safely:

• Decorate 4th of July treats using white frosting, blueberries and raspberries or strawberries.

• Make paper rockets by using paper towel rolls, paint or markers, streamers and child-safe glue. Make pinwheels or wind socks with an Independence Day theme.

• Create a patriotic wreath, pasting red, white and blue stars in a circle. Hang it from a door or window.

• Paint flower pots in red, white and blue and plant new seeds or festive flowers.

• Decorate bicycles, scooters and wagons in red, white, and blue. Have a family parade.

• Hang decorative string lights and have a dance party with patriotic music.

• Design and decorate t-shirts and hats using glow in the dark paints. Add puffy paints and glitter to make them sparkle.

• After the sun goes down, wrap flashlights in colored cellophane to provide fun shades of light.

• Purchase non-toxic glow-sticks, ropes and jewelry that can safely light the night for kids.

• Organize a classic car, kiddie or pet parade on your block.

For eye injuries

The Ohio Eye Care Coalition offers the following guidance in responding to eye injuries:

• Do not delay medical attention, even for seemingly mild injuries. “Mild” injuries can worsen and end in vision loss or even blindness that might not have occurred had a doctor provided treatment early on.

• Do not rub the eye nor attempt to rinse out the eye.

• Avoid giving aspirin or ibuprofen to try to reduce the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs thin the blood and might increase bleeding. Acetaminophen is the over-the-counter drug of choice.

• Do not apply ointment or any medication. It is probably not sterile. In addition, ointments make the eye area slippery, which could slow the doctor’s examination at a time when every second counts.

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