This is how the Fourth of July will be different this year

Make sure you have some earplugs handy. Cul-de-sacs, towns, and neighborhoods may be seeing a whole lot more amateur fireworks displays this year, according to a new survey just released by the not-for-profit healthcare organization Orlando Health.

The Fourth of July is defined by barbecues in the backyard, the American flag, and of course, fireworks. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 various professional fireworks displays are being canceled this year to discourage large gatherings of people. Within the context of social distancing and keeping people safe, it’s the right call, but it still puts a damper on the holiday that Americans look forward to every summer.

So, according to OH’s recent research, many Americans are instead planning on setting off a fireworks display of their own this year. We’re not talking about a few firecrackers either; many respondents said they’re going to buy some bigger, heavy-duty rockets to compensate for the lack of professional shows. 

In total, two in five Americans are planning on buying at least some fireworks this year. Of that group 16% said they’re only buying rockets this year because of COVID-19 related fireworks display cancellations.

While it’s somewhat admirable that so many Americans want to keep this tradition alive during these stressful times, the team over at OH is concerned that the nation is going to see a whole lot more firework-related injuries in the days following July 4th. 

“You have more inherent risk of people getting bigger and better fireworks than they usually acquire for themselves because there’s not going to be large aerial shows,” says Elizabeth Gibson, MD, an orthopedic surgery resident at Orlando Health. “They may try to take it upon themselves to have the best fireworks show in the neighborhood or the best fireworks show that their family has ever put on and a lot of people don’t realize just how dangerous these fireworks are until they sustain a life-changing injury.”

Even in a normal year, it’s quite common for emergency rooms and hospitals all over the country to be packed with firework-related injuries. Dr. Gibson experienced it herself in 2018 when Orlando Health’s emergency wing had to treat 16 people for such injuries in the days surrounding the Fourth of July.

“It became a public health concern that my colleagues and I felt compelled to speak out about to try to prevent as many of these injuries as possible,” Gibson explains about what happened in 2018. “We planned a series of media events to warn about the dangers of fireworks and give tips to stay safe.”

Those efforts did end up paying off for the Fourth of July 2019, with the Orlando area seeing a 75% drop in firework-related injuries. However, the Fourth of July 2020 is quickly approaching and Dr. Gibson is very concerned about what may happen this year with more people buying their own fireworks. 

Moreover, these aren’t minor scrapes, bruises, or burns we’re talking about. Most often, a firework-related injury is life-changing.

“A lot of people use fireworks without incident, but when accidents happen, they result in devastating injuries that greatly affect the lives of victims and commonly take several surgeries to recover from, along with months of physical therapy,” Dr. Gibson comments. “People lose fingers and even their entire hand, there is often extensive tissue damage to upper extremities or the eyes and face. And every year there are several deaths in the U.S. as a result of fireworks injuries.”

If you’re still unconvinced that fireworks can lead to disaster within an instant, take local resident Josh Baker’s word for it. He lost a thumb after trying to re-adjust a firework mortar that had moved slightly.

“I just remember it went off and I looked down and could see straight through my hand,” he remembers. “Ultimately, I’m lucky all I lost was my thumb. If I had leaned in a little more or turned my head a different way, I might have never left the dock that day.”Baker has an especially unique view on the subject of fireworks injuries because besides being a survivor himself, he also works as a local firefighter and often responds to calls related to fireworks.

“Every year I brace for those calls around certain holidays like New Year’s Eve and July Fourth, and every year, without fail, there are people who lose some fingers or a hand,” Baker says. “I think it’s something you have to have a healthy respect for. It may seem like a lot of fun, but fireworks are dangerous explosives and people need to be extremely cautious when using them.”

Even smaller seemingly harmless fireworks like sparklers can do serious damage if not handled with care. For reference, a sparkler burns at temperatures of 2,000 degrees. That’s hot enough to burn through metal; imagine what temperatures like that can conceivably do to human skin.

At the end of the day, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to forgo fireworks this year and wait for a big professional display in 2021. Of course, it’s unrealistic to think everyone is going to do that. So, if you, a loved one, or friend is planning on using fireworks of any kind this Fourth of July, the team at Orlando Health has a few suggestions.

  • Never keep a firework in your hand after it’s been lit. 
  • If a lit firework doesn’t go off, don’t immediately pick it up or bend down to check on it. Instead, dump some water on it to ensure it will not explode unexpectedly.
  • Always be sure to have some water (a bucket, hose) nearby in case of accidents.
  • Keep kids far, far away from the fireworks. If you allow kids to use milder fireworks like sparklers, keep a close eye on them.
  • Mixing fireworks with drugs or alcohol is never a smart idea.