Fireworks + alcohol = disaster
Published 4:33 pm, Thursday, July 3, 2014
Most people are aware of the deadly consequences of driving while intoxicated. They may know less about the danger of using fireworks while intoxicated.
Based on what Dr. Donal Conway sees in the Bridgeport Hospital emergency room this time of year, that seems to be the case. Though Conway, an attending emergency room physician at the hospital, doesn't see droves of fireworks-related injuries, they do happen. And alcohol can be a factor.
"Alcohol and fireworks -- they don't really mix," Conway said. "And people take silly chances" when they drink.
With the Fourth of July, arguably the most pyrotechnic-associated holiday, just around the corner, he and other area experts urge a little common sense when it comes to fireworks.
"Around the Fourth of July, fireworks injuries are certainly more common than they are the rest of the year," Conway said.
Most forms of fireworks are illegal for private use in Connecticut, with the exception of sparklers and fountains that contain less than 100 grams of pyrotechnic material. Even these devices are legal only for those age 16 and older. Possession of illegal fireworks can be punished by a fine up to $100 and/or 90 days in prison.
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In 2012, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 8,700 people for fireworks-related injuries.
Of those patients, 55 percent had injuries to the hands and other extremities, and 31 percent were to the head.
The risk of fireworks injury was highest for those ages 15 to 24. The next most-injured group were children under 10.
On Independence Day in a typical year, far more fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires -- more than any other cause.
National Fire Protection Assocation
Yet despite these laws, every Fourth of July weekend Connecticut's emergency rooms are filled with those who have injured themselves, either with illegal fireworks or with improperly used legal items.
"It's not a small problem," said Dr. J. Grant Thomson, a plastic surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital. "Every year, we see 10 to 15 people injure their hands and other parts of the body with fireworks."
Nationwide, thousands of people are injured by fireworks every year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2012, U.S. emergency rooms treated about 8,700 people for fireworks-related injuries, more than half of them to hands and other extremities.
Doctors aren't the only ones who see a spike in pyrotechnic mishaps around Independence Day. Capt. Greg Carman, training officer and public information officer for the Milford Fire Department, routinely sees such injuries this time of year.
"What we see are a lot of hand, finger and eye injuries," he said. "If someone gets (fireworks sparks) in their eyes, it can do some serious damage."
Carman also echoed what the doctors said about alcohol: "Drinking does lower inhibitions, and does impair judgment," Carman said. "So people don't make the best decisions."
Thomson, who specializes in hand surgeries, said most of the injuries he sees result from people holding fireworks as they explode.
Conway agreed that hand injuries are a problem, adding other injuries can include burns from stray sparks, even from items like sparklers, which can burn as hot as 1,000 degrees.
"The most obvious injury that occurs with fireworks are burns," he said. "People have a tendency to grab (fireworks) without thinking or to put them too close to their face, which they shouldn't do."
Given the dangers involved, and that most fireworks are off limits to civilians, anyway, experts advised leaving the explosive displays to the professionals.
"Really, our best advice is to stay away from fireworks," Carman said.
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