Burned on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a festive time of year. Many of us get the day off and have cookouts or parties, and some cities and towns hold festivals. Of course, no Fourth of July celebration would be complete without a fireworks display. From skyrockets to Roman candles, fireworks have entertained and captivated young and old for years.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't take seriously the major hazards related to fireworks. Some even enjoy lighting firecrackers or cherry bombs and holding them in their hand as long as possible before throwing them -- sometimes at each other! Even sparklers, which many consider a "safe" firework, can be dangerous. Sparklers can burn up to 1,800 F, and the stick remains hot long after the flame goes out. Still, some parents will readily hand their child a sparkler without a second thought. Some people just don't seem to understand what can happen with these unsafe practices.

Many of those who have used fireworks have a "close-call" story to tell. My father had multiple fireworks incidents when he was younger. However, one particular story stands out.

When he was 15, my father and five of his friends from the neighborhood decided to take some Roman candles to a nearby field. It was a particularly dry summer that year, and the field had tall grass -- up to his knees at some points. To remain hidden from police, they chose a spot that was out of sight from the road. They lit their Roman candles and started shooting them almost horizontally. Then, as some foolish people do, they started shooting them toward one another.

For about an hour and a half that night, they ran around that field having fun. Then, a scary series of events took place. A flaming orb from a Roman candle was shot into one boy's T-shirt sleeve. Almost simultaneously, another boy was struck in the eye by one of the colored fireballs. The two injured teenagers and one other stopped shooting their Roman candles so they could check how badly they were injured. The other three boys, including my father, continued playing. About 10 minutes later, my father inadvertently shot a few orbs into an area of thicker, drier grass. Those orbs caused the lower portion of the grass to ignite, and, almost instantaneously, the entire corner of the field was on fire.

When they saw the blaze, they immediately ran away. The majority of the field eventually ended up burning. Fortunately, no property, other than the empty field, was damaged, and none of them were caught by police. My father and his friends were lucky to escape this "near miss." With the fire spreading as quickly as it did, it could've very easily surrounded them, trapping them in the

Still, there were consequences to their careless behavior. The young man who had the orb shot up his sleeve had to go to the emergency room with third-degree burns across the underside of his upper arm, along his armpit and down a few inches on the side of his torso. The doctors had to give him skin grafts, and he spent a week in the burn unit to make sure the affected area was
kept clean. For as long as he and my father kept in contact, he had bad scars all along the grafted areas.

The young man who was struck in the eye also had to go to the emergency room. He suffered permanent damage to his eye and eyelid and had to have surgery that night. Sadly, his eye sustained too much damage to ever recover, so it had to be removed. It was replaced with a glass eye that he has to live with for the rest of his life. He had to spend two weeks in the hospital recovering from the surgery and the burns to his eyelid.

That night, two people's lives were forever changed. But despite the horrible injuries his friends suffered, my father continued using fireworks unsafely. Eventually, though, he saw the error of his ways.

If you plan to shoot fireworks, please keep my father's story in mind. When used properly, fireworks can add excitement to any celebration. However, in the hands of the careless, the festivities could end badly.


Before lighting your first fuse, make sure fireworks are legal to possess and use in your city and state. The National Council on Fireworks Safety (NCFS) website has a directory of state laws regarding fireworks, including what items are permitted and prohibited for use. It's also a good idea to ask your local fire or police department if fireworks are legal in your area. Although fireworks may be legal in your state, there may be reasons -- such as a burn ban due to dry weather -- why their use is prohibited in some areas. For more information, visit the NCFS's website at http://fireworksafety.com.


To help you safely celebrate the Fourth of July, the National Council on Fireworks Safety offers the following tips:

•Use fireworks outdoors only.

•Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.

•Always have a garden hose or bucket of water handy.

•Only use fireworks as intended. Don't try to alter or combine them.

•Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

•Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter, and the shooter should wear safety glasses.

•Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."

Page last updated Tue July 1st, 2014 at 07:44