Fireworks have been part of the Fourth of July for as long as America has celebrated its independence.
But as the celebrations evolved beyond firing muskets to the multi-colored brilliance of today's fireworks displays, the danger has grown as well.
Many people try to create their own explosive displays at home, but when they are not properly trained in handling such materials, injuries can occur.
Rosie Thompson, a registered nurse with the Kansas University Medical Center Burn Center in Kansas City, Kan., said, "Children under the age of 10 and young adults, 18 to 24, are the two age groups most likely to receive burns on the Fourth of July."
Eyes, face and hands bare the brunt of the damage.
"People can go blind or lose fingers," Thompson said. "Even the fireworks we think are safe, like sparklers, are really incredibly dangerous."
SPARKLERS ARE FIREWORKS that emit white or colored sparks when lit. The chemicals in sparklers are pasted on needle-thin wire. Unlike other fireworks devices, sparklers don't explode, splatter or fly up like rockets. Instead, they sizzle at temperatures of 1,200 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and they injure more than 800 preschoolers each year.
Sparklers are common causes of corneal burns and burns to the hands and fingers, Thompson said, adding users also tend to swing burning sparkers, risking penetrating eye injuries to young bystanders.
"Children should be constantly monitored if they have fireworks, no matter what type," said Dr. Virginia Tucker, associate professor of pediatrics at KUMC. "They like to hold sparklers but they're still dangerous. The tips are extremely hot."
Tucker was president of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1990. That was the year the national AAP called for a ban on the private use of fireworks, in an effort to limit their use to professional displays.
"There are three major types of injuries to children from fireworks," Tucker said. "Injuries can result from burns, premature explosions and poisoning through ingestion."
IN 66 PERCENT of cases, fireworks injuries are associated with misuse of the explosives -- holding the device in the hand, relighting fireworks that did not ignite, carrying them in the hand and bending over fireworks to light them.
"Sometimes people will put a bottle rocket in their back pocket for safe keeping and a 'friend' will light it for a joke," said Thompson. "Other times they'll light a firecracker and it won't go off so they'll go and look right over it and it goes off in their faces."
In one study, bottle rockets accounted for 70 percent of eye injuries that resulted in loss of vision.
Last year at the KU center, four patients were burned badly enough by fireworks that they had to be admitted, and in July 1992, the Kansas Fire Marshal Department received reports of 139 people injured by fireworks from area hospitals. More than 67 percent of those treated were under the age of 19.
In addition, 201 fires were reported by the Kansas fire departments with property losses in excess of $114,000.
THOMPSON SUGGESTED refocusing holiday activities away from backyard fireworks.
"The Fourth of July is a family day, she said, "Try to prearrange activities like watching professional fireworks displays. They're usually much more fun."
Another, new alternative is "FunnerWorks," which are non-explosive toys for children ages three and up. They will be sold this year at various Kansas City locations by the Mid-Continent Burn Foundation, a non-profit foundation for burn rehabilitation and prevention. Money from the sales will benefit the burn centers at KUMC and Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and will help send children to the Colorado Burn Camp.
FunnerWorks will be sold from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., July 2 and 3 and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 4 under red and white tents in the parking lots of Wal-Marts in Overland Park, Blue Springs, Mo., and Raytown, Mo.
For those parents who plan to allow their children to celebrate the Fourth of July with private fireworks, following are several rules to consider:
- Children should know how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire. After the flames are extinguished, clothing should be removed from the affected areas and clean, cold water applied as first-aid. Burns to the eyes also should be rinsed with cold water.
- Children should be taken to the nearest emergency room for evaluation of burns to the skin that are larger than the palm of the child's hand and for any burns to the eye, ear, finger, face, feet or genital area.
- Make sure instructions on the fireworks' labels are read and followed.
- Store fireworks in a dry, cool place and avoid rough handling that might damage fuses.
- Provide adult supervision for children setting off fireworks and do not allow very young children to handle fireworks.
- Light only one device at a time.
- Ignite fireworks outdoors, away from houses, trees and other flammable products.
- Do not attempt to relight any fireworks that fail to discharge. Allow sufficient time, and then dispose of the dud in a safe manner.