Fireworks in the age of COVID-19: More dangers than ever

Health experts offer tips to avoid burn, blast and hearing injuries


Fireworks are a big part of Fourth of July celebrations. They also can cause serious burn, blast and hearing injuries if they're used carelessly. 

Avoid the dangers of fireworks with advice from UC Davis Health experts.
Avoid the dangers of fireworks with advice from UC Davis Health experts.

This year, with most public fireworks displays canceled due to COVID-19, fire officials expect personal use of fireworks to be higher than in the past.

“This may also result in more widespread injuries,” said orthopaedic surgeon Christopher Bayne.

Bayne specializes in repairing hands, wrists and arms. He sees more patients when fireworks are available.

Fireworks can cause injuries similar to what bombs do in war zones.
— Christopher Bayne, orthopaedic surgeon

“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.”

Use fireworks with extreme caution

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. Fire officials say they have already seen an increase in illegal fireworks use this year.
  • 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 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, and most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 decibels. Children are the most vulnerable.

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. The 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.

Warning signs of hearing damage

  • Ringing or buzzing (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).

If either persists 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
Report on fireworks-related deaths, emergency department-treated injuries and enforcement activities
Fireworks information from the National Safety Council
City of Sacramento fireworks safety
Fourth of July safety tips from the County of Sacramento