“Flames were shooting into her hand. She kept screaming.”
That’s how Marc Janson recalls his Fourth of July last summer. Janson and his daughter Caroline, then 6 years old, were playing with handheld smoke bombs, lighting the end that shoots smoke while holding the other. It seemed simple enough — they’d used these fireworks dozens of times before without any issue. Other kids in the neighborhood were playing with them too. Everyone was having fun.
Janson, a local anesthesiologist, handed one to Caroline and lit it. The fun quickly turned to panic.
“Almost instantly the handle side of the firework exploded,” Janson said. “You could see the fire on her hand.”
Though Caroline dropped the firework in a matter of moments, the damage was already done. Her hand was severely injured, the palm covered in second- and third-degree burns.
Unfortunately, other kids will be in Caroline’s shoes this year. Fireworks are by far the most common way to sustain a hand injury. Of the 11,000 fireworks injuries in the U.S. in 2014, nearly 40 percent were to the hands. The injuries included burns, gashes, fractures and even losing fingers. Victims can suffer permanent tendon and artery damage. Some lose hand function altogether.
Charity S. Burke, M.D., hand surgeon with Louisville Arm & Hand, is no stranger to treating these injuries.
“When you’re the on-call hand surgeon during the Fourth of July, you know you’re going to be busy,” Dr. Burke said.
While she does treat young children, like Caroline, for fireworks injuries, Dr. Burke said older kids and young adults are more likely to end up in the emergency room.
“I see mostly teens,” she said. “Usually they’re unsupervised and trying to hold a firework in their hand while it’s going off. Roman candles and firecrackers seem to be the main culprits.”
Fortunately, Caroline made a full recovery, but she suffered months of extreme pain, a blister the size of a golf ball and a gaping wound on her palm. Janson said his view of fireworks has changed.
“We played with fire and literally got burned,” Janson said. “In retrospect we were lucky that the firework didn’t hit her face or set her clothes on fire. I’m much more aware of the danger. You just can’t trust them.”
Dr. Burke offered some tips on how to avoid fireworks injuries:
• Only adults should handle fireworks and they should never be homemade.
• Discuss safety procedures with your children. Teach children to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothes catch fire. Show them how to put out fireworks with water or a fire extinguisher.
• Read labels and carefully follow directions. All fireworks carry a warning label describing necessary safety precautions.
• Never use fireworks indoors.
• Be sure spectators are out of range before lighting fireworks.
• Never aim or throw fireworks at another person.
• Never place your face or any other body part over fireworks.
• Never try to reignite fireworks that malfunction.
• Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
• Light fireworks only on a smooth, flat surface away from buildings, dry leaves and flammable materials.