Characteristics of Fireworks Injuries
Each year the Pelham Fire Department and the Pelham Police Department are faced with reminding residents that the public use of fireworks are illegal in the City of Pelham. The public use of fireworks has not been allowed since 1988, and yet some of our residents, especially new arrivals, are not aware of this ordinance. The use of fireworks during the holiday season is common, but extremely dangerous. The following information was gathered from the National Fire Protection Associations (NFPA) web site, and provides statistics that will make you think twice before taking a chance with a dangerous and often illegal activity.
In 2004, fireworks-related injuries accounted for 9,600 U.S. hospital emergency room visits. The trend in fireworks-related injuries has been mostly up since 1996, with a sharp spike in 2000-2001, primarily due to celebrations around the advent of a new millennium. The highest injury rates were for children aged 5 to 9, only slightly higher than the rates for children aged 10 to 14 and individuals aged 15 to 19. In 2004, five out of six (85%) emergency room fireworks injuries involved fireworks that Federal regulations permit consumers to use. The risk of fire death relative to exposure shows fireworks as the riskiest consumer product.
More than 42% of 2004 emergency room fireworks injuries were head injuries, and more than half were to extremities.
Injuries to extremities were primarily to hands or fingers (33% of total injuries). One-fifth (21%) of injuries were to the eye, and one-fifth (21%) were to other parts of the head or face. A 1998 study of all Canadian fireworks injuries ever reported to the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program found a large share of injuries occurred while the victim was holding the fireworks device, and the U.S. injury patterns are at least consistent with that pattern. More than three-fifths (62%) of 2004 fireworks injuries were burns. Contusions and lacerations were second (20%). Contusions and lacerations were roughly equal in number to burns when the injury was to any part of the head or face, including the eye.
Highest risks of fireworks injury are to school-age children.
As in most years, the majority of victims of fireworks injuries in 2004 were under age 20. The highest injury rates were for children aged 5 to 9, only slightly higher than the rates for children aged 10 to 14 and individuals aged 15 to 19. The rates for children aged 0 to 4 and for young adults aged 20 to 24 were 50% higher than the average rate for all ages. Males accounted for three-fourths of fireworks injuries. Similar patterns in fireworks injuries were found in the Health Canada study cited above. The highest rates in that study were for the 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 age groups, followed closely by the 5 to 9 age groups. One study “Fireworks-related childhood injuries: A national problem,” found that young female victims were usually bystanders, while young male victims were usually involved in igniting fireworks. In 2004, five out of six emergency room fireworks injuries involved fireworks that Federal regulations permit consumers to use. The other 15% were large/illegal firecrackers, homemade or altered devices, and public display fireworks. Federal law permits public use of what are now referred to as “consumer fireworks”, which are defined as “any small fireworks device designed primarily to produce visible effects by combustion” that comply with specific construction, chemical composition, and labeling regulations. Some states further restrict the public’s access to fireworks.
“Safe and sane” fireworks caused more injuries than illegal fireworks, especially to preschool children.
The term “safe and sane” fireworks, is used to refer to devices such as sparklers, fountains, snakes, party poppers, and ground spinners. As a promotional technique, the fireworks have been labeled “safe and sane” fireworks by their advocates. Laws based on this approach allow considerable private use of fireworks, but exclude any explosive type devices that lift off the ground that are allowed under Federal law. In 2004, sparklers, fountains, and novelties alone accounted for 40% of emergency-room fireworks injuries, including most injuries to pre-school children (ages 4 and under) where the type of fireworks device was specified.
“Safe and sane” fireworks are neither. When things go wrong with fireworks, they typically go very wrong very fast, far faster than any fire protection provisions can reliably respond. And fireworks are a classic attractive nuisance for children. If children are present to watch, they will be tempted to touch. Children can move too fast and be badly hurt too quickly if they are close to fireworks, as they inevitably are at home fireworks displays.
State laws restrict fireworks use by the public and public use is prohibited in the City of Pelham. People determined to acquire fireworks in areas that prohibits them can often cross a state, county or city border to buy fireworks, thereby violating a law or ordinance that is difficult to enforce. Every year, for example, people drive into neighboring areas and buy fireworks from retail firework stands. The existence of some legal fireworks for the public encourages a climate of acceptance and creates a distribution network, both of which make it easier for amateurs to obtain illegal fireworks. Since at least 1910, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has crusaded to stop the dangerous private use of fireworks, which as noted accounts for nearly all of the injuries from fireworks in most years. Many states still permit untrained citizens to purchase and use fireworks – objects designed to explode, throw off showers of hot sparks, or reach surface temperatures as high as 1,200°F. The thousands of serious injuries and extensive property loss nearly all arise from this misguided activity, rather than the only acceptably safe way to enjoy fireworks, which is in public fireworks displays conducted in accordance with NFPA 1123, Code for Fireworks Display. Anything else is a violation of IFMA's (International Fire Marshals Association’s) Model Fireworks Law, which reflects NFPA’s zero-tolerance policy for consumer use of fireworks.