If history is a barometer for the future, then over the next several days, thousands of Americans will be treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries from illegal and legal home fireworks displays. And a few, perhaps a dozen, will die.
A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study estimated that in 2019 there were an estimated 10,000 fireworks’ related injuries in which individuals were treated at hospital emergency rooms, nearly 75 percent from June 21 through July 21. There were a dozen deaths and the CPSC said that not all fireworks’ related deaths had yet to be recorded when its report was completed. Of the dozen deaths, seven, the agency said, were from misuse of fireworks, two with device malfunction, and three for unknown circumstances.
As a journalist, I always knew that if working over the third or fourth, I’d be doing a story about someone who lost a finger, a limb to a fireworks mishap.
After a year in which Independence Day celebrations were subdued, public fireworks displays, local parades, and backyard celebrations are back. And likely with gusto. My hope is that people act responsibly, cautiously when setting off any fireworks at home or in their neighborhood.
In 2020, officials in East Providence, Cranston, and Providence were among those reporting an uptick in complaints about illegal fireworks’ displays, including concerns for pets that fear the explosions and noise, according to the Human Society.
Perhaps among the most celebrated fireworks injuries came in 2015, when New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul lost three fingers, when he reportedly had a van full of fireworks for a Fourth of July celebration, according to NFL.com.
Here are a few examples from the CPSC 2019 report:
• On July 4, a 15-year-old boy was found bleeding in his driveway after neighbors heard an explosion around 7:30 pm. The boy was home alone when the incident occurred. Metal fragments were found in the victim’s neck and chest. He was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead. An autopsy attributed the cause of death to an improvised explosive device with fireworks.
• A 45-year-old man died after a 1.4G canister-style fireworks device struck him in the chest on June 7. While intoxicated, the victim initially placed the fireworks device on his head and lit the fuse. The fireworks fell forwards and detonated, hitting the victim in the chest. The device caused a penetrating arterial mortal wound, and the victim died at the scene.
• On July 2, a 61-year-old man died from a firework explosion to his chest. The victim had been lighting fireworks for the neighborhood children all day when he lit a large mortar firework facing the wrong way. A witness said he told the victim not to light the firework, but when he did, the firework went off and the victim fell backwards. The victim had been drinking alcohol earlier in the day, and several empty alcohol containers were found at the scene. The police report indicated that the firework hit him in his chest and that the victim died instantly.
• On July 4, a 21-year-old man was critically injured when lighting mortar-type fireworks on the rooftop of an apartment complex. The victim and his brother were setting off fireworks when the victim grabbed a fireworks device and lifted it over his head to launch the firework while manually elevated. The firework ignited and exploded while the victim was holding the firework. The victim’s brother ran to the victim and observed that he was bleeding from the head. He removed his shirt and tied it around the victim’s head to stop the bleeding. The victim’s brother asked nearby witnesses to call an ambulance; the ambulance arrived and took the victim to the hospital where he died five days later.
These incidents are clear reminders that fireworks are to be taken seriously, and those using them acting responsibly and with caution. If so, the Fourth of July will truly be a celebration.
This story was originally published on June 29, 2021. It has been updated.