Several years ago on July 4th, 13-year-old Shane was with his dad at a backyard fireworks show. When it was his turn to load a mortar into the launch tube, it exploded in his face. “The impact shattered his forehead, cracked his skull in half and burned most of his brain,” said Glenda Lynch, Shane’s mother. “We had to take him off life support.” Since the death of her son, Lynch has been an advocate for fireworks safety. According to the National Safety Council, Independence Day consistently ranks as America’s deadliest holiday. In fact, emergency rooms add staff on this day because so many people hurt themselves. But it’s not just fireworks that make the holiday so dangerous; it’s also the heat, drowning, and drunk driving that put people at risk.
The statistics are off the charts when it comes to injuries on the Fourth of July compared to any other holiday, especially when it comes to fireworks. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) looked at fireworks injuries from June 22 to July 22 in 2012 and found that an average of 200 people went to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around the Fourth of July, with more than half of those injuries being burns. A total of 74% of those injured were male, with injuries mainly attributed to firecrackers, sparklers, bottle rockets, novelty devices, Roman candles, and reloadable shells. Twenty-six percent of the injured were female, who were mostly injured by public firework displays. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the risk of firework injury was highest for people between the ages of 15 and 25, followed by children under 10 years old. In addition, in 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,900 reported fires, including 1200 structural fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires, culminating in 8 deaths, 40 injuries, and $32 million in property damage.
Remember that whereas fireworks may be visually stunning, they’re still explosives. It’s best to leave fireworks to the professionals, but if you are handling them yourself, follow these important safety tips:
- Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks (give them glow sticks instead)
- Never try to relight or pick up fireworks that haven’t ignited fully
- Do not wear loose clothing while using fireworks
- Never light fireworks indoors or near dry grass
- Keep a bucket of water, a garden hose, or a fire extinguisher handy in case of fire or other mishap
- Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them
- Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly
As Independence Day falls in the middle of the summer, the warm weather makes it an ideal holiday for picnics and barbeques, but the heat can pose serious hazards, especially to children and the elderly. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are brought on by staying out in the sun too long, or spending too much time in an overheated place without keeping hydrated; and all that alcohol typically consumed on the Fourth of July doesn’t help. Signs of heatstroke include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated or lowered blood pressure
- Cessation of sweating
- Irritability, confusion, or unconsciousness
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Fainting, which may be the first sign in older adults
If you notice someone is experiencing heatstroke, immediately move the person to a shady or air-conditioned space and call 911 for medical help. Cool the person by covering them with a damp towel or by spraying them with cool water, and if the person is able, have them drink cold water or another nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
Naturally, the extreme heat around the Fourth of July brings about plenty of pool parties, beach trips, or swimming in some other body of water, and each year, news outlets are brimming with Fourth of July drowning deaths. The CPSC says that in 2011, there were 25 drowning incidents reported involving children under the age of 15 during the holiday week, and in 2010, 24 incidents were reported during the same week. The CPSC’s “Pool Safety” campaign urges families to follow a few simple steps to avoid tragedy over the holiday:
- Never leave a child unattended in a body of water
- Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim
- Learn CPR
- Have appropriate equipment for your pool or spa, including lifesaving equipment such as life rings, floats, or a reaching pole
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adds that life jackets should always be worn, even by responsible boaters and swimmers. Also, don’t drink and swim; nearly half of all drowning deaths are related to alcohol consumption.
Finally, whereas alcohol makes every single one of the above Fourth of July activities more dangerous, drinking and driving plays a major role in earning Independence Day the title of the most dangerous holiday, even more than New Year’s Day. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been tracking car crash statistics for over 25 years, and they show that, on average, 51% of all fatal automobile accidents on July 4 are related to alcohol. Other holidays that top the list include Labor Day, New Year’s, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but the Fourth of July is always on top. The most dangerous time to be on the road is from 6:00 pm on July 3 to midnight on July 5. According to the NHTSA, between 2007 and 2011, alcohol was associated with 61 road fatalities per day over the Independence Day travel period. Between 2007 and 2008, motor vehicle deaths during the holiday more than doubled, from 184 to 472.
To avoid being another statistic this Fourth of July, make sure you consider these safety precautions before taking to the roads:
- Make arrangements for a designated driver or call a taxi if you plan to consume alcohol and need a ride home
- Report drunk drivers you see on the road
- Don’t let friends drink and drive
- Always wear a seatbelt, even if you are a passenger
With that in mind, have a safe and joyous time celebrating our nation’s independence. Cheers!
- CPSC: past July 4th drownings serve as a warning this independence day; chairman urges parents, children to enjoy the pool but ‘pool safely’ over holiday. US Consumer Product Safety Commission website. June 29, 2012. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Newsroom/News-Releases/2012/CPSC-Past-July-4th-Drownings-Serve-as-a-Warning-this-Independence-Day-Chairman-urges-parents-children-to-enjoy-the-pool-but-Pool-Safely-over-holiday.
- Fireworks. National Fire Protection Association website. http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/holidays/fireworks.
- Fourth of July weekend is a deadly time to be on the road. Insure website. Updated June 27, 2012. http://www.insure.com/car-insurance/deadliest-crash-days.html.
- Gorzelany J. July Fourth named ‘the most dangerous holiday of the year.’ Forbes website. July 2, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2013/07/02/celebrating-the-most-dangerous-holiday-of-the-year.
- Heatstroke: first aid. Mayo Clinic website. April 3, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-heatstroke/basics/art-20056655.
- Miranda M. 2012 firework injury statistics around July 4th. KSTP website. July 3, 2013. http://kstp.com/article/stories/s3087470.shtml.
- Sauter MB, Frohlich TC. The most dangerous holidays in America. 24/7 Wall St website. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/12/20/the-most-dangerous-holidays-in-america/2.
- Thomas L. A ‘life sentence’ after a July 4th accident. MYNorthwest website. June 24, 2012. http://mynorthwest.com/646/697827/A-life-sentence-after-a-July-4th-accident.