Pittsburgh-area authorities look to prevent fireworks injuries

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Children often watch in delight as fathers or mothers light fireworks that launch explosions of color into the night sky.

Usually the fireworks are properly handled and the family is able to safely enjoy the display. But sometimes, tragic accidents occur resulting in severe burns, lost limbs, vision loss or fatalities.

Each year, about five people are admitted to the UPMC Mercy Burn Center with serious injuries related to fireworks. Nationally, there are about 10,000 accidents involving fireworks each year, said Jenny Ziembicki, medical director of the UPMC Mercy Burn Center.

Dr. Ziembicki estimated that about half of the patients are children, in many cases stemming from accidents involving sparklers.

To combat this problem, Dr. Ziembicki gathered Wednesday with the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police bomb squad to provide safety tips about fireworks, gas grills and campfires.

The Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services provided demonstrations of how quickly fireworks burn and how destructive they can be. Homemade fireworks were placed in watermelons to demonstrate.

Carlos Schrader of the bomb squad said problems often arise when people do not know how long it takes for the fireworks to launch.

"Sometimes a person will think something is wrong with the firework if it does not immediately go off, so they walk toward it," he said. "These are the types of situations when injuries can occur."

Even though consumer fireworks are not permitted in Pennsylvania without a permit, it's easy to get around the law by purchasing them in neighboring states such as Ohio.

If police find anyone using consumer fireworks without a permit, they will confiscate the items. They also may choose to issue a citation or arrest the individual, Mr. Schrader said.

UPMC Mercy will once again provide glow sticks to area EMS facilities for distribution. The hope is that parents will be encouraged to give children glow sticks rather than sparklers.

Dr. Ziembicki said that because warm weather has arrived, it's a lot more common for individuals to come in dangerous contact with fire. Campfires should be started using a small amount of kindling, Mr. Schrader said, and gasoline should not be added. To be safe, a campfire should only use twigs and wood.

Mr. Schrader advised users to clean out gas grills at least once a year because small animals are able to crawl inside to nest.

"We're not saying people shouldn't enjoy outdoor activities," Dr. Ziembicki said. "We just want people to be safe."


Jessica Tully: jtully@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1159 and on Twitter: @jessalynn4.


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