State fire marshal encourages people to celebrate July 4th safely

As families gather for the Fourth of July weekend, the American holiday often accompanied by beer, barbecue and booming fireworks, state and medical officials stressed that people should celebrate safely.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning encouraged people to attend professional fireworks shows, but if are going to light their own fireworks, they need to put them on the ground, light them and walk away, he said.

“Part of enjoying the holiday is being safe,” he said.

Most of the injuries caused by fireworks happen when people light them while still holding them in their hands, he said.

“From a practical standpoint, that’s where our problems are,” he said.

He pointed to six injuries his office investigated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that involved fireworks, and seven fireworks incidents investigated the previous New Year’s Eve, including a 3-year-old Harvey girl who suffered second-degree burns to her neck, face, ear and head when a bottle rocket flew into her hoodie.

Most of the incidents involved injuries to hands and faces while some caused permanent disfigurement, Browning said.

Dr. Kevin Kirchner, a neuro-ophthalmologist in New Orleans who has been on call in multiple emergency rooms for the last seven years during the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, said he sees about 10-15 people during each holiday who suffered eye injuries from fireworks.

The common injuries include scratched corneas, corneal abrasions and cuts on the eyelid.

“In very serious cases, you can suffer significant visual loss or permanent visual loss from a ruptured eyeball or retinal detachment,” Kirchner said.

He recommended that people handling fireworks wear eye protection and not stand too close to the fireworks. Kirchner also stressed that inexperienced people or children should not handle fireworks, especially sparklers, which can burn up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kirchner pointed out statistics from the American Academy of Ophthalmology that showed 9,000 people are injured throughout the United States from fireworks each year, including 1,000 who suffer eye injuries.

Of those 9,000, half are either bystanders or are under 20-years-old, Kirchner said.

Browning said his office is also cracking down on unlicensed fireworks stands in an effort to keep illegal fireworks off the streets because they are not subject to safety testing from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Browning said unregulated fireworks cam be more volatile.

“You can’t sell them out of your home. You can’t sell them out of the trunk of your car,” Browning said, adding officers shut down an illegal stand recently in north Louisiana and seized the illegal goods.

Illegal fireworks normally come in brown paper bags and have names like M80, Cherry Bombs and Quarter Stick, Browning said.

Fireworks sold to the public are given a Class C safety rating from the commission and do not have more than 500 grams of black powder in them and the shell has to be no larger than 1.75 inches in diameter. Any larger fireworks are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Fire Marshal’s Office will also continue to ban the sale of sky lanterns, papier-mâché balloons with candles inside, because those tend to fly hundreds of miles away from where they are lit and have been known to cause fires in forested areas, Browning said.

People who are going shoot their own fireworks should have a hose or water bucket nearby in case of emergency, follow directions carefully and those going to a professional show should never pick up fireworks leftover.

Eldon Ledoux, spokesman for the St. George Fire Department, said other safety tips include never carrying fireworks in your pocket, never re-light a firecracker that did not go off the first time and never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.