Ready to celebrate our nation’s birthday on Monday? Before you grab a box of sparklers or firecrackers, know how to safely use them.
Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell and Bastrop counties all have enacted burn bans because of drought conditions brought on by a hotter than normal May and June and a dryer than normal year.
Fireworks technically are not covered by burn bans, but in Travis County, the fire marshal and the fireworks retailers have agreed to not sell two types of fireworks: stick rockets and missiles with fins or rudders. Williamson County also reached similar deals.
Bastrop and Hays counties have prohibited the sale of those two types of fireworks.
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In Austin, it’s illegal to use fireworks without a permit to do a professional display. You can call 311 if you suspect someone is using fireworks illegally.
Some things are allowed in Austin without a permit, such as glow worms, trick noisemakers, sparklers and smoke devices.
Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander, Pflugerville, Georgetown, Lakeway, Buda and Kyle have similar fireworks ordinances.
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Take safety precautions
Kristen Hullum, trauma injury prevention coordinator at St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, and Dr. Ben Coopwood Jr., a trauma surgeon and burn specialist at Dell Seton Medical Center, have these tips on lighting fireworks safely:
• Go over ground rules with everyone before lighting any fireworks. Rules can include holding a sparkler away from your body and giving yourself a circle of space at least an arm’s length around you before you light the sparkler.
• Sparklers can be dangerous. They cause about 75% of the fireworks-related injuries in the US, which is also true for Austin. Sparklers burn at 2,000 degrees, hotter than a blowtorch, Coopwood said. Handle the sparkler by the nonburning tip, and when it’s done, drop it on a nonflammable surface such as pavement. Douse it in water before putting it in the trash.
Often young children are the ones who get burned. Make sure kids are able to follow directions and are supervised by adults at all times before letting them use a sparkler or any other firework, or hold the sparkler for them.
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• Never hold a firecracker (except a sparkler) in your hand and light it. Instead, place it on a nonflammable surface, such as pavement, for lighting, and away from homes, cars and buildings.
• Fireworks are unpredictable and sometimes go sideways instead of up. Keep everyone—children, pets, other adults—at least 15 feet from where they are being lighted. Injuries happen when people get hit by these fireworks or they are holding a defective one that goes off in their hands.
• Have a bucket of water or a garden hose attached to a faucet handy in case something goes astray.
• Do not light more than one firework at a time. Not all of them will go off, and you will have unexploded fireworks all over the place. Place duds in water before disposal, too.
• Do not aim fireworks at anyone, pets included. People think it’s funny, but it can cause an extreme injury, Hullum said.
• Keep pets secured indoors during fireworks. They can get scared enough by the noise to run away.
• Keep fireworks away from your face and body. Every year there are severe injuries because people thought it would be funny to shoot fireworks off their head or chest, she said.
• Have a charged cellphone handy at all times to be able to call 911.
• Avoid using alcohol around fireworks. Have a designated fireworks lighter who is not drinking.
The American College of Surgeons’ Committee on Trauma reports that about half of all trauma-related injuries involve the use of alcohol. Fireworks injuries are no different.
Designate a sober person to be in charge of any fireworks. When it comes to fireworks injuries, “it’s lots of adults making less than wise decisions about the use of fireworks,” Hullum said. “Frequently alcohol is involved. … It inhibits our abilities to make good judgments.”
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Worry about grill safety, too
Because of burn bans, outdoor cooking can only be done in a contained currency such as a grill, not a firepit in the ground.
Don’t stand over the grill when lighting it. Use a long match or long lighter, keep hair pulled back and avoid loose-fitting shirts.
When it comes to barbecue burns, Coopwood said, he usually sees people who have tried to augment the fire by throwing something such as gasoline on the coals. It flares up and shirts catch fire, burning arms or chests.
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How to treat a burn from fireworks
The most common fireworks-related injury is a burn. If the layers of skin are broken, put a clean, wet dressing on it and head to the emergency room for proper treatment. Austin has a burn unit for really bad injuries at Dell Seton Medical Center.
If the top layer of skin is intact but red, drop the area into a bucket of cold water with ice cubes in it to stop the burning. Keep the area in the bucket until you can no longer feel the burn.
More serious injuries involve a firework exploding into a person or the loss of fingers and hands.
The most dangerous fireworks are the ones that launch and travel far because those can cause a penetrating injury that could end in death, Hullum said.
Public fireworks shows
There are a number of public fireworks displays scheduled for the holiday. The biggest one is the HEB Austin Symphony concert and fireworks at 8:30 pm on July 4 at Vic Mathias Shores on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, but you can also find celebrations in Bastrop, Bee Cave, Belton, Buda, Cedar Park, Georgetown , Hutto, Kyle, Leander, Liberty Hill, Pflugerville and Round Rock. Find our complete list at austin360.com.
If you go, remember to stay hydrated with water, not alcohol or soda. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a mask if you cannot social distance. COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Travis, Hays, Caldwell and Williamson Counties have been in the medium level for community spread. Bastrop has been in the low level.