For many of us, fireworks are a highlight of Fourth of July celebrations. But when not used safely, they can cause serious burns and injuries and even hearing damage. This year, there’s also COVID-19 to consider. Most community fireworks displays are back after last year’s cancellations and UC Davis Health experts advise caution when gathering indoors or in large crowds.
Celebrations amid COVID-19
Though most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, coronavirus is still circulating - including new variants that are more dangerous, particularly for the unvaccinated.
“It’s important for those who aren’t fully vaccinated to wear a mask when gathering indoors with people outside your household,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “This includes children under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination.” Children under 2 should not wear masks, due to the risk of suffocation.
What about outdoors, at fireworks displays? “Unvaccinated individuals should also mask up outdoors when crowding makes social distancing difficult,” explained Blumberg. “Fully vaccinated people may also choose to mask in these conditions to further decrease their risk of infection.”
The Delta variant, first discovered in India, also continues to spread in the U.S. and California. “It is up to 90% more transmissible compared to previous strains, so this is another reason to mask when with others,” Blumberg said.
Use fireworks with extreme caution
— Christopher Bayne,
Orthopaedic surgeon Christopher Bayne specializes in repairing hands, wrists and arms. He sees more patients when fireworks are available for personal use.
“It is OK to think of fireworks as part of your holiday celebration, but keep in mind they are also significant threats, especially to the upper extremities,” Bayne said. "Fireworks can cause injuries similar to what bombs do in war zones.”
Here are helpful fireworks-safety tips from the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center.
- Buy only State Fire Marshal-approved (safe and sane) fireworks. They must have the fire marshal’s seal and can only be purchased at licensed fireworks stands.
- Do not ever use homemade fireworks of illegal explosives. Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
- Use fireworks outdoors only and never near dry vegetation or flammable materials.
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers — those can burn as hot as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider giving them safer alternatives such as glow sticks, confetti poppers or colored streamers.
- Keep in mind that parents are liable for damage or injuries their children cause with fireworks.
- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Designate a sober adult to light fireworks.
- Watch what you wear, as loose clothing can easily catch fire. The person lighting fireworks should wear safety glasses.
- Never place any part of your body directly over a firework when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
- To prevent trash fires, douse fireworks after they are finished burning with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding them.
- Never try to relight or handle "dud" fireworks. Wait 20 minutes, and then soak them with water and throw them away.
- Light fireworks one at a time.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
How to help someone who is injured
Most injuries caused by fireworks require medical assistance. There are some things you can do quickly to reduce harm.
For minor burns
- STOP, DROP and ROLL or smother flames with a blanket.
- Apply cool (not ice cold) water to the burn for five minutes or until pain subsides.
For major burns
- Call 911 for emergency medical help.
- Don’t remove burned clothing.
- Don’t immerse large severe burns in cold water.
- Check for signs of breathing and movement; if none, begin CPR.
- Elevate the burned body part or parts; if possible, raise above heart level.
- Cover the person with a dry blanket as the victim is likely going into shock.
For blast injuries
All blast injuries should be immediately treated by medical professionals. Call 911 for transportation to the nearest emergency room.
Preventing firework-related hearing loss
Hearing loss due to loud noises is another common injury around the Fourth of July.
Any noise above 85 decibels is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 decibels and can reach 155 decibels. According to the Centers for Disease Control, loud noise over 120 decibels can cause immediate harm to hearing.
Robert Ivory, director of audiology services at UC Davis Health, said people often forget about the dangers of loud noises.
“The explosion from a single firecracker at close range can lead to permanent hearing damage in an instant,” Ivory said. “Noise-induced hearing loss can be life-changing, but it is highly preventable.”
Ivory recommends wearing disposable foam or silicone earplugs while watching fireworks. Earplugs are available at local pharmacies and allow people to hear music and conversations while blocking dangerously loud sounds. Regular hearing checks are also important to detect hearing loss early and minimize its effects on quality of life.
Children are the most vulnerable. “Parents need to be vigilant in teaching children the importance of hearing health including (E) earplug use, (A) avoiding loud sounds, (R) reducing the volume of sound and (S) shortening time in loud sound, said Rachael Krager, UC Davis Health audiologist.
Warning signs of hearing damage
- Ringing, buzzing or hissing noises (tinnitus) in the ears immediately after exposure to noise.
- Difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise (you can hear people talk, but not understand them).
- Muffled hearing after exposure to noise
If any of these persist for more than 24 hours, contact your primary care provider for an appointment. He or she may also refer you to a hearing specialist.
More fireworks safety resources
Fireworks information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission
Fireworks information from the National Safety Council
City of Sacramento fireworks safety
Fourth of July safety tips from the County of Sacramento