CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the Fourth of July coming up Friday, many people are stocking up on snappers, smoke balls and sparklers in anticipation of the big celebration.
However Nikki Flemming, a spokesperson for the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, said these seemingly harmless novelty fireworks, along with other legal fireworks, can cause a lot of damage if they aren’t handled properly.
“We know the majority of (firework-related) injuries occur within 30 days surrounding the Fourth of July — 65 percent of injuries happen within this time,” she said. “This is the time of year where consumers need to be more cautious.”
According to the commission, there were approximately 11,400 firework-related injuries reported in the United States in 2013. Flemming said that is an alarming 30 percent increase from the previous year.
Mark Lambert, the chief investigator for the West Virginia State Fire Marshal Office, said he thinks people get hurt because they don’t take time to fully read instructions before using the fireworks.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission agrees, stating in a recent report that improper use and device malfunction are two of the biggest reasons people are injured during those 30 days. They reported more than half of the injuries sustained were to those under 20 years of age.
West Virginia state law declares nobody under 16 years of age is allowed to purchase sparklers or novelties — and perhaps for a good reason.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that there were more than 2,000 reported injuries associated with sparklers that landed people in the emergency room for treatment. Of the firework-related injuries reported, 36 percent were burns to the hands and fingers and 22 percent were to the face, head and ears.
Flemming said she wants to keep sparklers out of the hands of children to prevent them from being seriously burned.
“Sparklers burn at 2,000 degrees, which is as hot as a blowtorch,” she said. “Consumers may believe that a sparkler is innocuous enough to give to a child, but (you should) never allow young children to use a sparkler.”
Ralph Apel, a spokesperson for The National Council of Firework Safety, said people need to teach their children to handle fireworks in a safe way and supervise them when they are handling sparklers. He compared teaching children to run the weed eater or learning to drive with fireworks — they can use them safely if they are taught how to use them properly.
“People think of novelty fireworks as children’s fireworks — snappers are very innocuous, smoke balls don’t burn real hot,” he said, but that perception can be deceiving.
“Just take the time to teach the children about fireworks about how they work, the dangers of the heat they produce and the proper way to handle it.”
Apel said one thing his group likes to suggest is for people to have a designated firework shooter through the course of the evening. He explained these people should read the labels on fireworks beforehand so they can find out what the firework will do before they even light a fuse.
Flemming urged users to always inspect the packaging of consumer fireworks, which are brightly packaged and include manufacturing information and a warning label. Illegal fireworks, which come in unmarked packages, can contain a large amount of flash powder and can be extremely dangerous.
She said everyone should take the same precautions no matter what type of fireworks they plan to set off.
“If you do choose to light a consumer firework, you never want to relight or pick up a firework that doesn’t go off. Douse (it) with a bucket of water. Light (them) one at a time on a flat, dry surface and never have your body over the device as you are lighting the fuse,” she said.
“We want everyone to have a safe and happy July Fourth, and we don’t want anyone’s celebration to end up taking a trip to the emergency room.”
To report the selling of illegal fireworks, contact local authorities or the National Council on Fireworks Safety at fireworkssafety.org.