It’s that time of year again when dogs cower, the sky lights up and neighborhoods boom with the sound of fireworks…
…And sometimes, people find themselves in a hospital bed due to fireworks-related accidents or lapses in judgment.
Reported fireworks injuries dropped dramatically last year in a state survey of Minnesota hospitals conducted annually in the weeks surrounding the Fourth of July holiday: Between 2016 and 2020, there were an average of 73 reported injuries per year. Last year, just 17.
State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Amanda Swenson said she’s optimistic that that means the state is trending toward fewer fireworks injuries, but she’d caution jumping to conclusions that we’ll keep seeing lower injury counts.
Who gets injured
The drop-off in reported injuries in 2021 has a few possible causes. First, changes to the way reports were collected, plus hospital staffing issues may have reduced the number of responses to the survey, per Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesperson Zach Kayser. Second, pandemic supply chain issues that have stymied store shelf stocking and shipping affected fireworks, too, causing shortages that continue to this year, also forcing prices higher. And third, people’s Fourth of July gathering — and consequently, firework — habits may have been affected by the pandemic.
When it comes to who ends up in the hospital with a fireworks injury in Minnesota, the data suggest it’s disproportionately males, who made up two-thirds of reported fire injuries, compared to one-third for females.
In terms of age, the data suggest children and younger adults are most likely to go to the hospital for fireworks injuries. In a decade of data between 2012 and 2021, 19 percent of injuries were in children under age 10, 22 percent were in kids and teens ages 10 to 19, 22 percent were in young adults ages 20 to 29 and 18 percent were in people ages 30 to 39. The numbers dropped off for people ages 40 to 49, who had 11 percent of reported fireworks injuries in the data, and people ages 50-plus, at 7 percent.
Most years, CentraCare sees a few fireworks injuries around the Fourth of July, said Jason McDonald, an injury prevention specialist with trauma services at the health system, which serves Central Minnesota. The most common are open wounds and fractures.
“That comes from people holding fireworks or firecrackers in their hands, or trying to hold on to aerial fireworks when they light them and shoot them off, and then it explodes in their hand,” he said.
But following open wounds and fractures, it’s amputation (yes, fireworks taking off fingers and such) and then burns.
“The larger firecrackers, (people) try to hold it in their hand when it goes off. And if you hold it in your open hand, you might get a little superficial burn. If you close that hand and hold the fist over it, you’re containing that explosive overpressure. And that’s what snaps your fingers, gives you the amputation plus your skin opens,” McDonald said.
Another wound people don’t always think about? Burns on the feet, Swenson, the chief deputy fire marshal, said.
“People are dropping those hot sparklers or the spent different types of fireworks and then running around barefoot, enjoying the warm summer weather and stepping on those spent fireworks,” she said.
Of course, there are measures people can take to make fireworks more safe.
First and foremost, Swenson encouraged Minnesotans who want to set off fireworks to buy ones that are legal in Minnesota, including fountains, ground spinners, snappers and sparklers, which tend to be safer, though not totally safe.
Fireworks that explode or shoot into the air are illegal in the state, but that doesn’t stop Minnesotans from crossing state lines to buy them.
McDonald encouraged adults to supervise children around fireworks. And to refrain from lighting them off if they are consuming alcohol or mind-altering substances, which can cloud judgment and lead to dangerous situations.
Aerial fireworks can present all kinds of dangers in addition to emergency room visits, McDonald said: if it’s windy, they can blow into unintended places, like the neighbor’s house or a patch of dry grass and start fires.
Ground fireworks can cause fires, too. McDonald said it’s best to place them on a paved surface, or, if they are on grass, to make sure grass is sufficiently damp not to catch fire.
In the past 10 years, Minnesota Fire Departments have reported 600 fireworks incidents surrounding the Fourth of July to the State Fire Marshal Division, for a combined total of $5.5 million in losses.
Just following a few safety precautions when it comes to fireworks might help you avoid the emergency room — which, like many holidays where there are more people on the roads and more recreational activity as opposed to sitting at home on the couch, is probably not the best time to land in the hospital.
“Typically in the summer months, holidays like Fourth of July, you’re probably looking at a little bit busier weekend in the emergency room just because of the sheer volume of people who are out and about doing things, so your injury potential goes up,” McDonald said.