Celebrate Safely with Fireworks

By Sneh Ghandi, Abigail Lieu, Gracia Mulangu, and Sophia Pell, student interns, Occupational Health Services
Photo of large cluster of sparkly white fireworks explosion against a night sky.

Photo from SPGM archives

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on summer safety, written by Occupational Health Services student interns.

Warm, sunny weather in summer and fall is perfect for outdoor celebrations. Independence Day, Labor Day, family reunions, parades, cookouts, birthday parties—these are all occasions for which folks gather together to enjoy each other’s company, eat great food, and often top off the event with fireworks.

However, before you start to plan for party pyrotechnics, it is important to know if fireworks are legal in your area. In Frederick County, Maryland, only ground-based sparklers (sparklers stationed on the ground that shoot a small shower of sparks) and gold-label sparklers (which do not include chemicals added to give color) are permitted. However, in Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore counties, all types of fireworks are illegal.

In Pennsylvania, fireworks such as firecrackers and bottle rockets containing less than 50 milligrams of explosive material can be purchased and used by adults.

It is also essential to remember that a fun evening with fireworks can turn into a trip to the emergency room if safety procedures are not carefully followed. A recent report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission noted a “significant” (25%) upward trend in fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. between 2006 and 2021. 

Keep a clear head and keep kids safe

When hosting a celebration, it can be difficult to keep an eye on children. However, using extra caution when watching the kids, namely keeping them away from fireworks altogether, can be key to avoiding a serious incident. According to the National Fire Protection Association, children younger than 15 years of age accounted for almost one quarter of injuries reported in 2021. None should’ve been using fireworks to begin with.

I have treated kids who tried to light firecrackers – ‘cherry bombs’ – and throw them, but they exploded before they left their hand. I have observed lacerations, burns, and swelling to the hand/fingers, as well as temporary hearing loss from this ill-advised trick,” Ron Kunz, safety manager in the Environment, Health, and Safety Directorate at Frederick National Laboratory, wrote in an email.

Kunz, a veteran of a long career in emergency and safety services, has seen his fair share of the aftermath of such incidents.

Among teens and adults, using fireworks under the influence of alcohol or other mind-impairing substances dramatically increases chances of significant injury, including eye and head trauma, and burns to the arms, legs, face, and trunk. While a cold beer is the go-to choice for many adults at cookouts and summer celebrations, partaking – even just a drink or two – means it’s best to leave the pyrotechnics for another day.

What to do to minimize risk

For these reasons, the National Safety Council recommends enjoying professional fireworks displays over home displays, or celebrating using glow sticks, confetti poppers, or colored streamers, instead. Some communities even offer light shows that use illuminated drones instead of explosives for sparkly, celebratory cheer.

However, if you choose to use consumer fireworks, here are some important safety rules to follow:

  • Never use illegal fireworks.
  • Never point or throw lighted fireworks at another person or try to hold them in your hands.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Young children should not handle fireworks.
  • Older children should handle fireworks only under adult supervision.
  • Use fireworks away from houses and flammable material.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of fire.
  • Wear protective eyewear when using fireworks or standing nearby.
  • Keep pets indoors; loud booming noises cause confusion and distress.
  • Light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
  • Soak used, unused, and “dud” fireworks in water for several hours before discarding.
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.
  • Never light fireworks indoors or try to ignite them in a container.

Fireworks are beautiful and exciting but be careful when using them to protect the most important parts of your celebrations—you and your loved ones.

Sneh Gandhi, a rising senior at University of Maryland College Park, and Sophia Pell, a rising senior at Shepherd University, are summer student interns for Occupational Health Services (OHS). Abigail Lieu, a rising senior at Walkersville High School, and Gracia Mulangu, a rising senior at Frederick High School, are Werner H. Kirsten interns, also for OHS. All four assist registered nurses and nurse practitioners with day-to-day clinical tasks, including basic patient intake and triage, venipuncture, vaccine administration, patient charting, and wellness promotion.

Teaser photo by Matheus Bertelli on pexels