Spectacular but dangerous: Practicing fireworks safety

Fourth of July weekend has arrived, and fire department officials and medical personnel alike are reminding celebrants around the region to help ensure their continued independence by not breaking the law or risking injury this summer.

David Ferguson, fire marshal for Shenandoah County said it’s not a matter of whether he and his colleagues will be called, but when.

“Obviously during the Fourth of July is the most call volume we receive – we being all law enforcement agents in the county,” he said. “We average probably around 30 in the weeks leading up to and after the fourth.”

“Every year we do have injuries as a result of illegal fireworks,” Ferguson said. “We’ve had instances where people have lost limbs and digits… We get complaints in every year in regard to illegal fireworks. We follow up with those complaints and place charges as necessary. We’ll seize the fireworks and charge people with a class 1 misdemeanor.”

Ferguson said the origins of those calls tend to be concerned neighbors.

“A lot of it is people. One, they’re using illegal fireworks, but they’re using them in the proximity of other residents, right next to houses or apartment complexes and the sparks and other debris will be falling on others’ homes.”

The Forestry Department’s website, http://www.dof.virginia.gov/fire/safety/fireworks.htm, outlines which fireworks are classified as illegal in Virginia.

“Many types of fireworks (including firecrackers, sparklers, bottle rockets, skyrockets, torpedoes and other fireworks that explode, travel laterally, rise into the air, or fire projectiles into the air) are illegal in Virginia unless you are a licensed contractor,” the website states.

The reasons for the illegality of the above fireworks is to mitigate the likelihood for the spread of fire as well as limit the potential for injury. Many times, said Ferguson, those being cited for illegal fireworks are aware of the fact that they are breaking the law, but do so anyway.

However, Ferguson said injuries aren’t exclusive to those using illicit fireworks, and many people still get hurt while following the rules. The fire marshal urged common sense when using sanctioned fireworks.

“When you do have the use of legal fireworks, be at least 20 feet away from any combustible material,” Ferguson said. “Have a means to extinguish it whether that’s a bucket of water or a garden hose. Be mindful that people do get injured every year as a result of fireworks – both permissible and illegal.”

It’s no secret that fireworks can be dangerous. Their volatility is part of the reason they’re so enjoyable. However, Amanda O’Malley, nurse practitioner at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, said injuries from their misuse can be quite the opposite.

“A lot of them (injuries from fireworks) are burn injuries and finger injuries, like they’re holding onto it and they don’t let it go and it goes off or they’re too close and they get burn injuries from it – sparks on their skin and that kind of thing,” she said.

O’Malley also noted that proper supervision of children is paramount when fireworks are involved, as many young children can’t necessarily comprehend the danger.

“A lot of times it’s younger kids that are playing with them but we’ve also had adults with years of firework experience and it’s more of a malfunction,” she said. “The younger injuries tend to be kids that shouldn’t be playing with them.”

Furthermore, alcohol can compound the problem. People who have been drinking are both more likely to make mistakes when using fireworks and not understand the extent of injuries when accidents do occur.

“We worry about injury drunk trauma,” she said. “Realistically, with traumas that occur with people that have been drinking, you worry that there are other injuries they aren’t telling you about. Sometimes with traumas there are secondary injuries.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com