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Firework Injuries Do Happen and Can Change Your Life

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Firework Injuries Do Happen and Can Change Your Life

Jul 17, 2015
Would you let your three-year-old run around the yard waving a 2000-degree blowtorch? That’s how hot sparklers burn. Brad Wiggins from the University of Utah Burn Center says the injuries sparklers cause are real and can last a lifetime. Don’t underestimate the danger. Take a moment to find out the way most kids get hurt with sparklers—and with other fireworks—and what you should do to keep your child safe.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Did you know that fireworks injuries are actually worse on the 24th of July here in Utah than the 4th of July? We'll explore why and give you some safety tips coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Interviewer: Brad Wiggins is a nurse manager at University of Utah Healthcare Brun Center. And Brad was telling me that the 24th of July is your worst day of the year for fireworks burns. I find that interesting. Why do you think the 24th?

Brad: I just think here in Utah, the population of people that we have, they celebrate the 24th a lot more readily than they do the 4th of July. The celebrations around both of those, I think people are celebrating the fact that they live in Utah and that they're a part of the history of Utah being in the United States. So I think they take it a little bit more to the extreme sometimes.

Interviewer: Yeah. And what kind of injuries do you see in the Burn Center? Would that surprise people?

Brad: The types of injuries we see and the type of problems we see, number one, in small children, is related to sparklers. Sparklers are very, very dangerous. And probably the most common thing people don't know is that a sparkler burns close to 2,000 degrees. That's as hot as a blown torch. Would you give your two or three or four or five-year-old a blow torch and have them run around with the blow torch?

Interviewer: Like one of those ones you do a copper pipe repair on, would you light that thing up and let them run around waving it in the air?

Brad: And the answer is no. Nobody does that.

Interviewer: No, of course, you wouldn't. But a sparkler is the same thing essentially.

Brad: Yeah, and I think that's the extreme of people thinking about, "Oh, this is just fireworks fun," and it is fireworks fun. And if you ask me if I held this sparkler when I was a kid, absolutely. But now in my profession, I'm a burn professional and I understand the dangers and the risk and I think they really get associated with some very life-changing types of injuries that people just don't take the time to recognize when it comes to sparkler injuries.

Interviewer: When a child comes in with the sparkler injury, what kinds of injuries do you see and how does that affect the rest of their life?

Brad: Sure. A very simple type of injury we see from a sparkler is the fact that they held this sparkler, not on the handle part, that they actually held it where the chemical is that's burning. And the child doesn't know that. They haven't been educated and taught where to hold the sparklers. And it burns down into their tissue of their hand. When it's burning to 2000 degrees, it gives you a third-degree burn in less than a second.

Interviewer: So it's a guaranteed third-degree burn.

Brad: It's a third-degree burn and the only option for third-degree burn is surgical intervention. And the problem is this when a third-degree burn hits the finger or joint, which is where you're holding it because it's your fingers. So wherever you hit on a joint like that, it can actually lend itself to the possibility of amputation of fingers, partial amputation of fingers, skin grafting procedures on those areas and a lifetime of disability of movement of the joints in that area.

Interviewer: So you see sparklers and what are some of the other usual suspects when people come in like, "Oh yup, now there's another one of those."

Brad: Sure, someone trying to hold a firework like a firecracker, that's obviously going to have big ramifications. You can lose fingers from that, things blown right off.

Interviewer: And you've seen this stuff?

Brad: Absolutely, we see that every Summer. Yeah, absolutely.

Interviewer: It must be heartbreaking.

Brad: It is heartbreaking because it's such an easy thing to prevent. I think that in the burn world, we'd like to say about 75% of all the injuries we see in the burn center are preventable injuries. We're starting to see a lot of aerial types of injuries where someone will point in aerial firework at someone goofing around, having fun, maybe they've had some alcoholic beverage and they're enjoying themselves. Or maybe they have one and they're just being goofy and having fun with their friends. But they point them at each other, they're shooting them at each other and they don't know the ramifications. Most clothing catches on fire incredibly easily. You're pointing fireworks at people, you're sitting too close. Sparks can get you, embers can get you and the same goes back to the sparkler thing. Most catastrophic type of injuries we see from sparklers are that you have a child who's holding one and it catches their clothes in fire and no one is with the child when that happened and extinguish them close enough.

Interviewer: Some of these things that you are saying seemed incredible. People's clothes, catching on fire, that sort of thing, but that happens. You see that.

Brad: We see that every week. It's a common occurrence for us. Yeah, flame injury from clothes catching on fire is a huge deal and those are the types of injuries that are catastrophic on a much larger scale. And that's where people forget that your skin is the largest organ of your body. You damage the largest organ of your body significantly with flame and it's dead, the skin is dead, it impacts every other body system. It's the kind of thing that puts you in intensive care unit. It puts you on a breathing machine. It puts you having most likely to have that have some type of skin grafting and surgical intervention. There's a really huge cascade here from the simple concept of buying a sparkler pack at the booth and letting your child run around and play with it.

Interviewer: You're kind of bombing me out. This festive time now all of a sudden sounds like this is a very dangerous time. So let's talk about safety. It sounds like your number one suggestion is to leave it up to the professionals. But people are going to want to do this sort of thing. So what are your big safety tips other than what we've discussed?

Brad: Actually having a conversation about the safety risk. Promote the idea of letting an adult light the firework or have a supervised teaching moment with your child of, "This is how you do it and these are the risks." Not a scare tactic, but really direct communication about, "This is how you light a firework. This is what you want to do. You never want to hold it in your hand. You never want to try to keep it on some part of your body part. You don't want to throw it at someone because it can cause a life-changing injury for them." Let's just watch it and have some fun. We're going to do it the safe way.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. Hopefully, this conversation will reduce your workload on the 24th.

Brad: Yeah, I certainly hope so. And just as another reminder, if you do need our attention and you do need our care here at the Burn Center, we are available for that. And burns is incredibly unique and there are a lot of specialties to be able to do that. We recommend not using a lot of home remedies out there. There are a lot of myths. There are a lot of things you can find out there on the worldwide web that guide you with different directions. So why not. You have an incredible resource here in the State of Utah. We will take care of you. Let us do it for you.

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