Fireworks safety emphasized

COCKEYSVILLE - Smoke billowed from a lit fuse and, within a few seconds, the firework exploded, blasting the model hand holding it backward off the post and leaving it torn and broken.

Had it been a real hand, there could have been significant burns, thumb damage with ligament tears, badly destroyed tissue or amputation, said Dr. Ray Wittstadt, of the Curtis National Hand Center at Union Memorial Hospital, said. The accident would leave the hand not quite the same, "no matter how well we sew it back together," he said.

But unlike what might be a fireworks experience for consumers, with clandestine M-1000s or M-98 crackers out in the front lawn of their home, Thursday's demonstration was done by the Office of the State Fire Marshal's bomb squad at the 2014 Fireworks Safety Press Conference and observers stood away at a safe distance.

For most Americans, Independence Day means fireworks, and with fireworks come safety risks.

In 2012, emergency rooms tended to 8,700 people with injuries from fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's 2012 Fireworks Annual Report. While 57 percent of the injuries were burns, others included contusions, lacerations, fractures and eye injuries.

Some of the most popular illegal fireworks in the summer season include M-80s and M-1000s, also known as quarter sticks. These explosives, Wagner said, are illegal in every state and can lead to amputations and death.

In addition to injuries, more fires take place on the Fourth of July than any other day nationwide. Two out of five of those are firework-related, said Howard County Fire and EMS Chief William Goddard, chairman for the Metropolitan Fire Chief's Council.

"July 4 is a special day. It's the country's birthday, the day we got our independence and democracy was born," Goddard said. "But sadly, many citizens are seriously injured on the same day. And it's something we can stop."

Consumer fireworks, as opposed to public fireworks displays, were the cause of the majority of injuries, said Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Jack Wagner.

Goddard urged the public to say no to the use of consumer fireworks and, instead, celebrate the country's birth at organized public displays which are planned and executed by trained professionals.

If a consumer insists on setting off personal fireworks, officials at the press conference laid out a few suggestions for safety.

Consumers should purchase fireworks approved in the area they intend to set them off. If they are unsure of their legality, they are urged to check with local authorities. They should also follow all instructions on the package, keep the area free of combustibles, people and pets, keep the ignition source away from children, wet the ground before use, never attempt to relight a firework and never consume alcohol around the firework.

In the midst of relaying data on fireworks-related injuries, Goddard paused.

"These aren't just numbers, these are the lives of real people," he said. "Fireworks aren't toys. They are explosives. And they can be dangerous."