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Health & Fitness

Fourth tops in fireworks injuries

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Published:   |   Updated: July 3, 2013 at 11:39 PM

TAMPA - There's a sense of inevitability every July Fourth at the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital emergency department.

The team is ready for the annual fireworks fallout: burns, eye injuries, lacerations. Many of the 3,000 children and youth injured by fireworks nationwide every year show up around Independence Day. It's no different in Tampa.

"We're excited everybody's celebrating . but we're prepared for an increase in injuries," said Jamie Verberne, a children's advocate at the Tampa hospital.

Many adults don't realize that even the most benign-looking fireworks can be dangerous. Those metal sparklers for sale in the supermarket aisle? They can heat up to 1,800 degrees. And children, with their smaller arms, are waving those burning wands close enough to cause third-degree burns, Verberne said.

She suggests neon glow sticks to replace sparklers, which "seem fun, sparkly and not as dangerous," she said. "But families are not aware they can get so hot."

Sixty percent of the nearly 9,000 annual fireworks injuries in the United States last year happened in the 30 days surrounding the Fourth of July, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said. Many of the adults and children treated during that time were injured by sparklers and bottle rockets thought to be safe for children, the agency said. Malfunctioning fireworks often were to blame for the injuries, but so were user errors, such as lighting an explosive too close to other people, or lighting it while holding it.

Verberne said potential accidents are everywhere. A firecracker in your pocket can be triggered by simple friction, she said. Used fireworks can smolder for hours.

"Fireworks are very unpredictable. You never really know," she said. "Never try to relight a dud, and never let a child help clean up."

Fires are always a possibility around fireworks. The National Fire Protection Association said fireworks started 17,800 fires in 2011, and nearly half of those occurred on the Fourth, making it the most fire-prone day of the year. That included 1,200 structure fires and 400 vehicle fires.

Small children aren't the only ones injured by fireworks. The association said children ages 5 to 19 and adults 25 to 44 are most at risk. Children younger than 15 accounted for a quarter of all firework injuries in 2011.

Verberne said the number of injuries should make any family think twice about stopping to buy fireworks at the pop-up tents dotting corners across town. It's much safer to choose from the long list of official fireworks celebrations, she said.

"The best thing to do is go to an event run by a professional," she said.

mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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