Independence Day is a time of picnics, parades and patriotism. It’s also a time when hospitals often see a surge in patients injured while using fireworks in a misguided attempt to “celebrate” the holiday. 

Instead of fun, fireworks can easily lead to serious injury, from burns to far worse, says Clayton Boyer, an emergency department technician at Good Samaritan Hospital who has spent 23 years as an EMT. 

“It’s not unlikely to see injuries that relate to partial or full amputation of digits like fingers, eye injuries, or hearing loss,” he said. Those injuries can easily land people in the emergency room just when they hoped to be celebrating – especially kids and teens. Half of all injuries from using fireworks at home are to children and young adults under age 20. 

The potential for injuries is one reason that fireworks are illegal in the City of San Jose as well as in most of Santa Clara County. Another is the huge potential for starting a fire, especially in the midst of a prolonged drought when the danger of wildfires is extremely high; illegal fireworks start more than 18,000 fires in California each year. 

Children under five years old are most often burned by sparklers in the belief they are “safe and sane” alternatives, but they are deceptively dangerous. 

“Even a small sparkler – so-called ‘safe and sane’ fireworks – burns at 2,000 degrees,” he said. “Think about that touching your skin; it can cause second or even third-degree burns.” 

There are lots of alternatives for families looking to celebrate the holiday with light and color, especially those with young children. 

“Kids can play with glo sticks and confetti poppers, you can have light shows with drones or laser lights,” he said. 

In Boyer’s experience, fireworks-related injuries vary year by year, often depending on when July 4 falls during the week. When it happens as part of a long weekend, like this year, the chances are that injuries will be on the higher side. That could be even more pronounced because COVID caused people to scale back celebrations over the past two years. 

“Everybody has been cooped up, events were cancelled, but now everything is coming back to life,” he said. “My guess is we’re going to see an increase in injuries over last year. I hope I’m wrong, but everybody is ready to get back to ‘normal’ including those fireworks. So my advice is to use common sense.” 

Fireworks Safety Tips: If You Choose to Use Legal Fireworks

If consumer fireworks are legal to buy where you live and you choose to use them, be sure to follow the following safety tips:

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks
  • Older children should use them only under close adult supervision
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol
  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands
  • Never light them indoors
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person
  • Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting
  • Never ignite devices in a container
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks
  • Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don't go off or in case of fire
  • Never use illegal fireworks