Fort Meade community members enjoy the installation's 4th of July celebration last year.

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 both young and old for years.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't take the hazards related to fireworks very seriously. 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 degrees, and the stick remains hot after the flame goes out.

Many who have used fireworks have a close-call story to tell.

My dad's story

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, they chose a spot that was out of sight from the road. They lit their Roman candles and started shooting them almost horizontally, then toward one another.

For about an hour and a half that night, they ran around that field.

After a flaming orb had already been shot into one boy's T-shirt sleeve, and another injured one of the boys in the eye, 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.

The majority of the field ended up burning. Fortunately, no property other than the empty field was damaged. 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.

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.

Is it legal?

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 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.

Editor's note: The use of fireworks - including sparklers - on Fort Meade is prohibited. For more information about the safe use of fireworks in areas where use is legal, visit the National Council on Fireworks Safety website.

Page last updated Thu June 30th, 2011 at 00:00