Fireworks Safety Rules and Tips for Families

Even the most harmless-seeming fireworks (yep, sparklers!) can send a child to the ER. Keep your family safe this July 4th—or any time you want to enjoy some fireworks—with this important advice.

Father and son lighting sparklers Shutterstock
Sorry, but there’s no such thing as “safe fireworks” for kids. Over 30 percent of the 5,200 injuries from fireworks each year happen to children—most of which are from sparklers, novelty devices, and aerial devices. These injuries include burns, lacerations and even partial finger amputations.

“We have to always remember children are most vulnerable to these types of injuries so take them into particular consideration,” says Mark R. Zonfrillo, M.D., MSCE, attending physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Here’s what you can do to prevent your kids from getting hurt by fireworks.

At Home…

Consider skipping at-home fireworks altogether. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends families with kids don’t purchase fireworks for their own use at all and instead say you should go to shows conducted by trained pros instead.

Check local fireworks laws first. There are cultural traditions and celebrations that some people want to partake in, acknowledges Nychelle Fleming, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If you do decide to light your own fireworks, always purchase products that comply with your state and city or town’s rules. Anything that’s banned is also unregulated, which means it could be dangerous. Also, don’t purchase any professional-grade products to use at home. You’ll know a product isn’t meant for home use, because it won’t have colorful packaging or safety labeling meant for consumers and may instead look generic or be sold in a brown paper bag, says Fleming.

Never let your kids touch or light fireworks. And as we mentioned above, that means sparklers, too. In fact, 19 percent of fireworks injuries in 2015 were due to sparklers. “Sparklers may seem harmless or innocuous to children but they burn at 2,000 degrees. That’s equal to a blow torch, and you wouldn’t let your child play with a blow torch,” says Fleming.

Find alternative fun gear. Dr. Zonfrillo recommends getting your kids glow sticks and bracelets and light-up novelty items you’d purchase at an amusement park or carnival to create a festive feel for kids minus the dangers.

Create a safety zone. Don’t just trust your kids to stay away from fireworks going off. Keep them far back behind a fence or roped-off area. Or consider setting off fireworks outside while they’re safe inside the home.

Keep yourself safe. It’s not just kids we need to worry about—it’s us parents, too! Follow any safety instructions on your fireworks and always:

  • Light fireworks one at a time, without any part of your body over the device, and then move back quickly after you light it.
  • Have a bucket of water or garden hose handy to douse any duds. Never get close to or try to relight a firework that fails to go off.
  • Never throw fireworks or point them toward another person.
  • Don’t carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them from metal or glass containers.
  • Thoroughly wet previously detonated fireworks before throwing them away.

At a Fireworks Show…

When you’re heading to local fireworks with kids, check first to make sure it’s a regulated show. If so, there will be safety practices in place to minimize risks and problems.

Stay within the designated crowd areas. Never try to get a better view from a closer area.

Prep kids in advance. It’s not a safety issue per say, but small kids or those without experience watching fireworks could get scared or anxious as a result of the loud noises. “Explaining in advance what to expect is important,” says Dr. Zonfrillo.

Make a plan B. Even if your child has been fully prepared about what goes on at a fireworks show, they could still experience fear. “They might say they’re ready but in the middle of a big crowd it might be different,” says Dr. Zonfrillo. Sit near the park exit if you can, so you can make a quick getaway. Sometimes that’s just not possible though, so Dr. Zonfrillo also suggests bringing along a mobile phone or tablet with kid-friendly apps and kid-safe headphones to distract your child if they’re scared.

However, you don’t have to worry about one fireworks show damaging your baby or child’s hearing, says Dr. Zonfrillo, so no need to purchase specialized noise-cancelling headphones for the night.

The bottom line, Dr. Zonfrillo says, is "we can still really enjoy the July 4th holiday and other summer celebrations but we can do so safely.” 

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