When I was five years old, my neighborhood held a July 4 block party. I still remember snippets of the warm, sticky evening vividly. There were games for all the kids to play, and tables full of hamburgers, hotdogs, and sugary treats I ate with abandon, as my parents were too busy socializing to notice.
And then came the most thrilling part of the night. One of our neighbors handed all the kids a sparkler. I felt so lucky and happy to hold that spectacular, flickering stick in my hand. It was a mesmerizing, nearly magical moment. That is, until the sparkler fizzled out. To keep the fun going, I searched around for another sparkler, and snatched up one lying on the grass. The sparkler was no longer visibly burning, but the end I picked up was still searing hot. I can still remember the throbbing pain as the intense heat burned my fingertips. In an instant, my glorious July 4 evening came to an end. The pain from that sparkler lasted for days, causing blisters on my thumb, middle and pointer fingers.
While that injury didn’t cause long-term damage, the pain was so intense that I suspect it’s why I still remember the evening with such clarity.
Decades later I now work at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and I learned that sparklers – that celebratory stick often considered safe enough for young children to hold – burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, wood burns at 575 degrees, and glass melts at 900 degrees.
Between my personal experience as a little girl and as a professional at NFPA, the thought of having my boys hold a sparkler is unthinkable. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) 2012 Fireworks Annual Report showed that in the month around July 4th, sparklers alone accounted for two out of five of the emergency room fireworks injuries.
Beyond sparklers, I would never let my boys use any type of consumer fireworks, nor would I let them go anywhere consumer fireworks are being used by other people. They’re simply too dangerous.
According to the CPSC report, three out of five of the fireworks injuries were burns, while one-fifth were contusions or lacerations. Two out of five people injured by fireworks were under the age of 15. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for the children under five, followed by children 10 to 14 years of age. Males accounted for 57 percent of the injuries overall.
Of course, I still plan to enjoy and celebrate July 4 with my boys just like everyone else at my town’s public fireworks display, which is put on by trained professionals. It’s the safest way to enjoy fireworks. And let’s face it, they’re more spectacular than any display you’ll see in someone’s back yard.