- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

It’s all fun and games — until someone loses a finger. This July 4, leave the fireworks to the professionals or you may find yourself celebrating American independence in the emergency room.

That’s the message once again from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which staged its annual fireworks safety demonstration on the National Mall on Wednesday. The agency announced that eight fireworks-related deaths were reported in 2017, with victims ranging in age from four to 57.

“Fireworks don’t always go as planned. They are very dangerous,” said fireworks victim Michael Spencer. He suffered severe damage to both of his hands after setting off a shell-and-mortar style fireworks over his head while vacationing in 2015.

The instructions direct the user to set the device on the ground, light the fuse and quickly run away.

Mr. Spencer lost his pinky, ring finger, the tip of his middle finger and thumb off of his left hand. On his right hand he damaged his thumb, lost his index finger and the tip of his middle finger. He also suffered severe burns on his arms.

He underwent at least 11 hand surgeries, and doctors at one point attached the small toe from his left foot to his thumb. “I have a ‘thoe’ now,” Mr. Spencer joked, displaying his reconstructed hand at the demonstration.

Hands and fingers are the most common areas of injury, making up nearly a third of all such mishaps, according to the CPSC 2017 Fireworks Annual Report that was released this month. Burns were the most common injury to hands, fingers and arms at 53 percent.

Among the tips offered by CPSC experts: never use or make professional-grade fireworks; don’t buy or use fireworks not packaged for consumer use; never put any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse; never point or throw fireworks at another person or occupied area; light fireworks one at a time; and keep a bucket of water handy in case of fire or other emergency.

“We want to make sure everyone takes simple safety steps to celebrate safely with their family and friends,” said Ann Marie Buerkle, CPSC acting chairman.

This is the peak period for fireworks danger. CPSC staff conducted a special study of non-occupational fireworks-related injuries occurring between in the month ending July 16, 2017. In that period, an estimated 12,900 patients were treated for injuries in U.S. hospital emergency departments, making up 67 percent of the reported fireworks-related incidents in 2017.

“Fireworks are fire explosives, not controlled devices,” Mr. Spencer stressed. Most fireworks-related injuries were associated with misuse or malfunctions of fireworks.

CPSC demonstrated eight scenarios that can result in fireworks-related deaths using mannequins and watermelons. Five of the eight deaths in 2017 related to reloadable aerial devices, illegal manufactured device, a firecracker and sparklers.

Despite their relatively benign reputation, sparklers were the most common cause of fireworks-related injuries, an estimated 14 percent. Consumers should take caution with children, as children under 15 accounted for 36 percent of the 2017 injuries.

Legal fireworks are becoming more available in the U.S., with 46 states, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, allowing some or all types of so-called “Class C” consumer fireworks. Illinois, Ohio and Vermont only allow sparklers or other novelty fireworks, while Massachusetts is the only state that bans all consumer fireworks.

“Just because they are more available does not make them any less dangerous,” Ms. Buerkle said. “Be careful, take extra care. These are powerful devices and you just can’t shoot them off any way you wish.”

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