Beware of Fireworks

Handle with Care – Or Not At All

Fanfare, fireworks and 4th of July fun. Don’t let fireworks-related injuries take the fun out of your 4th of July celebration.

Fireworks-related injuries send nearly 10,000 people to emergency departments nationwide every year. “Finger injuries and burns of all kinds are especially common with fireworks, while cinders in the eye can burn the cornea,” says Jack Franaszek, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “Even small firecrackers can cause serious injuries.”

In Illinois, it is illegal for consumers to light anything more potent than sparklers, party poppers or other novelties. Firecrackers with bigger blasts—such as Roman candles, rockets or aerial fireworks—are banned from consumer use in Illinois. Wisconsin has more lenient laws about public usage of fireworks—so be extra careful.

“If you can’t resist the lure of lighting your own fireworks, be careful,” says Dr. Franaszek. “Protect your eyes; make sure you know where all children are; and make sure everyone is protected and out of the way. If you do get a burn, apply ice to cool it, clean it thoroughly, and apply an antibiotic ointment. If the burn starts to blister, see a medical professional immediately.”

No matter where you live, fireworks are best left to professionals. But if you just can’t resist the lure of your own sparkling backyard display, please follow these safety tips

  • Outdoors only. Never light fireworks or sparklers inside your house or even in your garage. They need a big space to “explode.”
  • Stay wet. Keep a hose or bucket of water nearby.
  • Stay clear. Make sure any spectators are far away from the firecrackers.
  • Make the right point. Never point firecrackers toward your face or toward another person. Facial burns are among the most common injuries. Never stand or bend over a firecracker to make sure it’s working. And, wear safety glasses is you’re the lighter.
  • No second chances. Don’t try to relight a dud. Even fireworks that seem to be “out” can burn or explode in your hand. Instead, wait 20 minutes before handling it; then soak the unlit firecracker in water before throwing away.
  • Not kids’ play. The National Council on Fireworks Safety advises that only persons over age 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type. “Make especially sure that children are protected when fireworks are around. Never let kids pick up fireworks or sparklers from the ground, even if they look harmless,” warns Dr. Franaszek. Unlit fireworks may still be burning hot, or can explode in the child’s face.
  • Too tempting for teens. Kids ages 10 to 14 are the most likely to be injured, but older teens are at risk, too. “Some years we see more adults than kids in the ER, because adults have done fireworks before and aren’t as careful,” says Dr. Franaszek.”
  • Drinking and fireworks—a dangerous mix. If you’ve been drinking alcohol, steer clear of handling any fireworks or explosives. Assign someone in your group to be the “designated shooter.”
  • Don’t make your own. Homemade fireworks can be the most dangerous—and even deadly. Never make your own.
  • Store safely. Unlit fireworks should be stored in a cool, dry place like the garage. Make sure they’re way out of reach of curious children.
  • Just say ‘no.’ The best way to avoid fireworks-related injury is to simply stay away. Enjoy your community’s fireworks display and find other ways to have holiday fun.


Sparklers are not kids’ toys. They may be fascinating to watch and small to hold, but sparklers cause nearly half of all injuries for children under 5. A curious, excited child may hold the sparkler too close to his face or too long in her hands. That burning sparkler is over 1,000ºF!


You can find more safety information from the National Council on Fireworks Safety ( and the U.S. Product Safety Commission (