Larry Mellick used to think the injuries he suffered from handling fireworks when he was a youth was a rite of passage, but now he knows differently.
“They’re not toys,” said Mellick, now a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia at Georgia Regional Medical Center. “They’re not things that children need to play with.”
Though he doesn’t expect to see as many injuries as he did Fourth of July week, Mellick knows there’ll likely be some New Year’s-related ones. He said the emergency department will generally treat patients for everything from minor burns and asthma episodes to loss of fingers in the most extreme cases.
“There will also be a lot of injuries that won’t show up in the ER because they aren’t as severe,” he said.
Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens issued a statement Friday reminding Georgia residents to keep an eye on their children when using fireworks.
“In 2011, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated approximately 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries,” he said. “The risk of fireworks injury was highest for children ages 5 through 19.”
According to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 8,700 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in 2012, with most happening around the Fourth of July holiday.
The Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital treated its first fireworks-related injury Saturday, Medical Director Fred Mullins said. As of Monday evening, seven people have been treated for burns received from sparklers, bottle rockets and other types of fireworks.
Mullins said he could see more than a dozen more patients before the end of the week.
“This will last until about Thursday,” Mullins said. “It can be a dozen or it can be three dozen.”
Hudgens also reminded residents that the sale and individual use of any type of firework, except certain kinds of sparklers, is illegal in the state.
The penalties, according to the statement, are a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and a possible sentence of up to one year in jail.
Though some consumers might plan on “playing it safe” by purchasing sparklers, the product, which can reach temperatures as high as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, can still cause severe burns, Mellick said.
“We may be fooling ourselves with the less dangerous fireworks,” he said.
People from both sides of the Savannah River flocked to Wacky Wayne’s in North Augusta on Monday, picking up their favorite brands of the ever-popular mortar shell-style of fireworks that are loaded into tubes and explode high in the air.
“They’re colorful, they’re loud and they put on a really good show,” store manager Skip Playford said.
While everything sold at Wacky Wayne’s is legal to use in South Carolina, most of the fireworks lining the shelves remain illegal in Georgia.
But that doesn’t hurt business. The store usually receives a boost in the days immediately after Christmas and continues into the new year.
The fireworks being purchased, however, are safer than they have been in years past, Playford said.
Fireworks companies have taken the initiative in creating safer products by adding new features, like the green “safety fuse,” which burns at a slower rate.
“The idea behind that is it’ll give you a little more time to get away,” he said.