Celebrating the stars and stripes without seeing stars

Know fireworks laws to stay safe this Fourth of July
Jul. 02, 2014 @ 06:48 PM

Night skies across the country will be bursting with color Friday night as the nation celebrates its Independence Day.

Since July 3, 1776, when John Adams wrote that the holiday should be commemorated with “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more,” fireworks have been a key ingredient to Fourth of July celebrations.

While most professional fireworks shows go without injury, private celebrations are a different story.

In North Carolina, any celebratory device that explodes or is projected into the air is illegal to use or possess if you are not a part of a company that specializes in professional fireworks shows.

High Point police Capt. Mike Kirk said there are two easy ways to know if a device is illegal or not.

“If you have to go to South Carolina to buy it, there’s a reason why,” he said. “If it explodes like firecrackers or M-80s or leaves the ground like bottle rockets or stuff like that, it’s illegal in North Carolina.”

This includes firecrackers, ground spinners, bottle rockets, aerial fireworks and Roman candles. They don’t always go by those names, though, said David Wiggins, medical doctor in the Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center Emergency Department.

“Illegal fireworks usually go by the names M-80, M-100, blockbuster or quarter pounder,” Wiggins said. “These explosives were banned in 1966, but still account for many fireworks injuries.”

Violators face a maximum of a $500 fine and six months of imprisonment.

But these aren’t the only apparatuses that cause injury. Bottle rockets and Roman candles cause about the same number of injuries as hand-held sparklers, Wiggins said.

“Things like firecrackers, rockets and sparklers are just too dangerous,” Wiggins said. “If you give kids sparklers, make sure they keep them outside and away from the face, clothing and hair. Sparklers can reach 1,800 degrees fahrenheit. ”

To put that in context, wood burns at 575 degrees and glass melts at 900 degrees.

To avoid burns, cut a small hole at the bottom of a plastic cup, stick the sparkler through the hole and have the child hold the wire from the inside of the cup. This avoids stray sparks from hitting their skin.

Children should only watch fireworks from a distance and should be restrained from picking up remnants after a show, as the pieces still could be active. Even if a firecracker seems to have malfunctioned, don’t light it again or put any part of your body over it. Soak the device and throw it out.

Emergency rooms across the nation treated nearly 9,600 people in 2011. Eight people were killed by fireworks that year. To avoid losing a finger, eyesight or worse, Wiggins suggests watching a professional show. He said the most disabling injuries happen with illegal fireworks — such as M-80s — at home.

“We haven’t seen any serious injuries from fireworks in recent years, and I believe that communities hosting events handled by professionals plays a big part in this,” Wiggins said.

Other safety tips

While fireworks usually are the highlight of the Fourth of July, there are other hazards children and adults should be aware of. 

Boating is a popular pastime for the weekend. Make sure you are familiar with North Carolina boating laws, which include having enough life vests for everybody aboard, including child vests for younger participants.

Aside from lakes, pools also become very crowded on the holiday. PoolSafely.gov advises people not to swim alone or get in the water if they are a weak swimmer or if they have been drinking. Alcohol and water, even in just a couple feet of it, don’t mix. Avoid any interaction with fireworks if you are under the influence.

If you are drinking, switch over to water throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Long hours in the sun plus minimal water can have drastic effects on the body. Watermelon is an alternative to help hydrate you. It also can double as a healthy snack.

Did you know?

The Fourth of July is the No. 1 day of the year for pets to go missing. Loud noises, like fireworks and parades, can spook them, so ensure they are safe inside with enough food and water for the day. As a safety precaution, check that they have their collars on.

Bugs, especially mosquitoes, easily can tarnish an outdoor experience. To keep them away from your deck, picnic area or other outdoor places, slice a lemon or lime in half and put 10 cloves in the fruit. Bugs do not like the scent and will stay away from the fruit.

The chemicals inside glow sticks are toxic. They can sting and burn eyes, irritate skin and burn the mouth if ingested. Glow sticks are equally toxic to pets as they are to people. They are safe to use as long as the chemicals remain in the plastic covering.