Dr. Fred Mullins, the medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital, treated his first fireworks-related burn patient Tuesday.
The man suffered minor burns to his hands, which Mullins said accounts for about half of all the injuries he sees during the week.
“This will probably carry on through the middle of next week,” Mullins said, adding that the burn center could treat as many as 40 patients before the holiday period is over. “Our staff is expecting a surge.”
In a news release Monday, Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens urged people to use extreme caution when using fireworks at home. More than 8,000 people are hospitalized each year for fireworks-related injuries. Most of the incidents involve children.
“For the sake of safety and seeing a spectacular display, your best bet is to attend a professional show,” he said in the statement.
In a typical year, Hudgens said, two-thirds to three-fourths of all fireworks-related injuries occur in the four-week period surrounding the Fourth of July, and that fireworks start more fires nationwide than all other causes combined.
According to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued last week, eight people died and an estimated 11,400 people were injured in fireworks-related accidents in 2013. Children under age 15 accounted for about 40 percent of the injuries.
Fireworks-related injuries were the highest since 2005, when there were an estimated 10,800 injuries, an average of 3.7 injuries per 100,000 people.
Hands and fingers were injured about 36 percent of the time, according to the report. About 22 percent of injuries were inflicted on the user’s head, face and ears.
Mullins said most accidents are preventable.
“Most of the time, the injuries we see from fireworks could have been avoided by using just a little common sense,” he said in a news release Monday. “Remember: You can never be too careful when dealing with fireworks.”
In its busiest year, the burn center saw 47 fireworks-related cases. On average, Mullins said, 10 to 20 patients will be treated during the week of July Fourth.
Though most patients are adults, Mullins said, he recalls treating a child who had suffered severe burns to 40 percent of his body after a malfunctioning firework caught the child’s clothes on fire.
Dr. Natalie Lane, the medical director of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia Emergency Department advises parents to take children to a professional show instead of a backyard display.
“They can be devastating injuries,” she said. “They can put eyes out and take fingers off. It’s a silly thing to do when you can really enjoy fireworks from that format. It’s far safer and far more spectacular than in your backyard.”
Skip Playford, a store manager at Wacky Wayne’s Fireworks in North Augusta, said most fireworks manufacturers take measures to make the explosives safer for the user.
“One of the biggest things they did was to incorporate a slower burning safety fuse, which gives you more time to get away after you lit it,” he said. “Some of the fast burn fuses are so quick that by the time you light it, it’s going off.”
Playford, who puts on his own fireworks display each Fourth of July, said it’s not hard to play it safe while having fun. As a precaution, he said, he makes sure that only one person is responsible for lighting the fireworks, and that water and a bucket of sand are nearby to douse any smoldering fireworks.
He said reading the instructions and safety labels printed on the packaging can save you the costly – and painful – trip to the hospital.
“In my personal opinion, fireworks are safe as long as they are handled in the way they’re supposed to be handled,” he said. “If you use it the proper way, it can be very safe and you can have a whole lot of fun doing it.”