Nursing & Healthcare News

Fireworks Safety

Be smart this Fourth of July and avoid a trip to the emergency department

A child in a red coat holds a lit fireworks sparkler with his fingertips.

As an emergency department nurse practitioner, I’m all too familiar with fireworks danger, but nothing could have prepared me for last Fourth of July.

An Injured Child

Around 9 p.m. that evening, a young father carrying his 4-year-old son bolted past the triage nurse and down the hallway of our ED, screaming for help. Earlier, the man had handed his child a lit sparkler. I won’t try to describe what happened next except to say the accident resulted in severe burns, retinal damage, and a long hospital stay for the young boy — causing inconsolable grief for his parents.

Considering that sparklers burn at 1,000 degrees and are held in the fingertips (and often waved close to the eyes), it’s a miracle more children aren’t grievously injured by them each year. Sadly, this child was.

Pyrotechnic Hazards

Personal fireworks are inherently dangerous. They can malfunction or be misused in any number of disastrous ways. Even with careful operation, these pyrotechnic devices are capable of inflicting serious burns, blast injuries, and hand and finger trauma, as well as punctured eardrums.

The sale of personal-use fireworks is generally illegal in most cities and counties in Southern California due to the high risk of wildfires and the grave potential for accidents and injuries. However, regulations vary between different communities within the region, and people who want fireworks can usually find them, whether being illicitly sold out of somebody’s trunk or purchased on the Internet.

Some communities do allow the sale and use of “safe and sane” fireworks between June 28 and July 6. These devices, which are sold by licensed retailers, are limited in size and do not explode, move, or fly through the air. In this nurse’s opinion, however, they should be renamed “slightly safer and saner” because even if they don’t fly or explode, they can still inflict harm. To learn more, visit

Leave Them to the Professionals

The safest way to enjoy fireworks this Independence Day is to watch one of the many excellent professionally conducted shows sponsored by local cities and organizations. There’s a host of these displays at locations like Hermosa Beach Pier, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Valley Cultural Center in Woodland Hills. An Internet search will yield many Southland viewing spots.

If you insist on setting off your own fireworks, be as careful as possible. Use eye and ear protection. Have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby. Lock up your pets in a secure place so they don’t get hurt or frightened. Remember, also, that alcohol and personal fireworks do not mix!

Of course, if you are injured (or suspect an injury), seek medical care immediately. However, this Independence Day, my greatest hope is that my emergency department colleagues and I have a very boring and uneventful night — which means you and your loved ones stay safe!

ZELDA HINCKLEY, RN, ENP-BC, has over 20 years experience in the emergency department of a large California hospital. She also volunteers in a nurse-run mobile clinic.

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