Swedish Medical Center
June 29, 2020

It's time for fireworks to burst in the air, but getting distracted by the rockets' red glare can lead to burn injuries and a trip to the hospital for the Fourth of July.

"We want people to be safe as they celebrate Independence Day," said Benson Pulikkottil, the medical director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Swedish Medical Center. "It takes only a moment of distraction for disaster to happen."

Most Independence Day celebrations center around fireworks. Dr. Pulikkottil has a simple warning: "There are no safe fireworks." That's why he recommends using professionals for fireworks shows.

However, if you do plan to shoot your own projectiles, he offers a few specific tips:

  • Create a "blast zone" that is away from structures, people, dry
  • grass and other flammable items.
  • Designate a sober adult as the safety person, another sober adult as the "shooter" and someone to be in charge of keeping children clear of the "shooting" area. Let children enjoy the show, not be part of it.
  • Make sure the "shooter" is not wearing loose clothing that could ignite, and follows all directions on the fireworks label. If the device does not have a warning and/or instructions label, do not fire it.
  • Get a flashlight to light the area so the "shooter" can see what he or she is doing.
  • Never stand over an item that does not fire.
  • Never throw fireworks. A malfunctioning fuse could cause the item
  • to go off in your hand.
  • Make sure a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water is nearby just in case there is an accident.

One of the most dangerous items are common sparklers, Dr. Pulikkottil said. Aside from emitting hot sparks while it is lit, the end result of a sparkler is a glowing hot piece of metal.

"You just cannot be too careful with fireworks," Dr. Pulikkottil said.

Fireworks are not the only danger related to the Fourth of July. In past years, Dr. Pulikkottil has also treated burns from outdoor grills. Usually, the burns are what are classified as "flash injuries," which may be not very deep, but are often painful.

"These injuries often occur when someone is trying to light the grill and a pocket of gas ignites," Dr. Pulikkottil said. "It can also happen when someone uses something other than lighter fluid to light charcoal."

Simple steps, such as checking hoses before using a grill can go a long way toward keeping you safe. Other tips include:

  • Before using the grill, make sure it's at least 10 feet away from other objects, including the house or bushes.
  • Always follow manufacturers' instructions when operating a grill.
  • Never use a match to check for leaks.
  • Keep gas hoses as far away from grease and hot surfaces as possible.
  • Replace nicked or scratched connectors.
  • Check tubes for blockage from insects or grease using a pipe cleaner.
  • Never start a gas grill with the lid closed.
  • Never use barbecue grills indoors.
  • Keep lighter fluid container away from the grill.
  • Utility/Barbeque lighters are not safe for children and should not be left outdoors where the elements may weaken or damage the plastic.
  • Always turn on utility light before you turn on gas or propane.
  • Always shut off propane tank valve when not in use.

Burns, however, are not the only injuries that can occur during the summer. Carelessness with fireworks and summer yard maintenance can also cause injuries to the hands, which require special care provided by a team of hand specialists at BRCA.

Proper care for a hand injury, according to Dr. Pulikkottil, begins shortly after the injury occurs. For example, if there is a complete amputation of a digit(s), call 911 first and work to control any bleeding. Then, safely collect the amputated parts and keep them moist and cool. Don't put the amputated digit directly on ice, though, as that can cause even more damage. Remember, time is important: muscles can be damaged within eight hours if not treated.

For severe lacerations, such as dog bites, focus on stopping or controlling the bleeding and getting the wound clean. If there is a large foreign body still in the wound - a nail, for example - leave it there. Let the medical professionals remove it.

"We are committed to providing the best outcomes to our patients," Dr. Pulikkottil said. "We want to make sure that they get back to living their best life, no matter their injury."

Learn more about the comprehensive burn center at Swedish Medical Center, a level I trauma center located in Englewood, Colorado. Visit SwedishHospital.com/specialties/burn-care