Beach Fireworks

Fourth of July celebrations by the beach in Ocean City, MD.

Independence Day is around the corner. Families are likely prepping to watch or set off fireworks and sparklers. However, the Fourth of July celebration might turn a fun-filled day into a painful memory if caution isn’t properly exercised. Even the most innocent-looking fire displays can lead to injuries or an actual fire. Consider these safety tips to enjoy the holiday without going to the emergency room.

Caution is key

Because of the novel coronavirus crisis, more people than usual may be setting up fireworks displays at their homes. To properly set off fireworks at home, get assistance from a professional, or if all else fails, sit back and let the experts handle it all.

“The best way to avoid injury is to defer to a professional pyrotechnician, or at least someone well experienced with fireworks, if you’re having a large display” says Dr. Michael Billet of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Buy from reputable vendors, follow the box instructions and don’t alter the firework in any way.”

For proper explosives precautions, as well as kids activities such as sparklers, Billet says fireworks are projectile explosives, so all the same rules of gun safety apply.

“A firework that has been lit can go off at any time, even if you think it’s a dud,” he says. “Don’t point them at anything you wouldn’t be OK with destroying. Know what’s around and above you — tree branches, power lines, etc. Eye protection for the person lighting the fuse is a must.”

There’s no hard rule for when children are old enough to use a sparkler, Billet says, but in general, use the same age cutoffs and level of supervision as if they were cooking on a stove. Dr. Desirae McKee of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, agrees.

“Teach them to use launching devices when appropriate and limit holding a firework after it’s lit,” she says. “Teach your kids to never go after a dud.”

Sparklers can burn between 1,200 to 3,000 degrees, so McKee says to consider glow sticks as alternatives.

“Have water readily available in case of a burn. Gold sparklers burn hotter than colored sparklers — use colored sparklers for a slightly lower temperature. Don’t let children run with a sparkler or other firework. The child could fall into it and get a penetrating injury or burn if they land on it,” she says.

A good rule of thumb is for one person to set off one firework at a time, Billet says.

“Make sure everyone present knows when they’re launching,” he says. “If there is an injury, seek medical attention immediately. … Don’t delay care.”

Food and social safety

To prevent and reduce foodborne illness, choose and buy fresh foods and eat them before the expiration date, says registered dietitian Ronette Lategan-Potgieter, a visiting assistant professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.

“Do not leave food outside or in a hot car for a long period of time,” she says. “Get foods that require refrigeration in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible.”

Plan to do grocery shopping last, just before returning home, or remember to take a cooler box to keep foods cold, Lategan-Potgieter says.

“If the food will be exposed to temperatures high enough for a long enough time that it will lead to ice cream melting, chances are good that the high temperatures can result in other foods spoiling, as well,” she says.

Once state stay-at-home orders begin to lift, McKee and Billet agree to keep in mind the recommended social distancing guidelines.

“For gatherings, there’s nothing magical about six feet of distance or groups of less than 10 people,” Billet says. “A cough can send the virus 15 feet, and a good sneeze can send it over 25 feet. Nonmedical-grade masks offer some protection, but really they keep asymptomatic carriers from spreading it. The risk of exposure never drops to zero; we want people to take reasonable precautions to limit the spread.”

For more safety tips, visit the National Safety Council and the National Council on Fireworks Safety.