Fire Officials & Medical Experts Stage Live Demo Showing Dangers of Fireworks

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt joined medical and public safety experts at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital to educate the public on the dangerous and lasting impact fireworks can have on families, pets, and combat veterans suffering from PTSD.

“The Annual Fireworks Report Fireworks-Related Injuries and Deaths Spiked During the COVID-19 Pandemic | released today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) showed 15,600 injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2020 (including 19 dismemberments in Illinois alone) as well as 18 non-occupational deaths due to fireworks, a 50% spike in both categories from the previous year. This huge increase is accredited to the cancellation of so many professional shows due to COVID, which sadly resulted in an increase of fireworks use by the general public.  The psychological and physical effects of these injuries last long after the 4th of July, explained Philip Zaleski, Executive Director of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, which runs an annual camp for children who are burn survivors (Camp “I Am Me”).

Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said, “I implore those who wish to experience the excitement of fireworks to do so only at professionally licensed venues that are now returning to operation with COVID-19 restrictions now being raised. Tragically, we have already seen the disastrous effects of firework injures in Chicago that have resulted in loss of limbs and permanent disfigurement from people mishandling these devices where excitement takes priority over safety.”

Princy George, MD, a pediatric emergency room physician at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, said she and her colleagues always see an increase in burn patients requiring medical care each summer because of fireworks injuries. “I’ve seen how dangerous fireworks can be for children,” Dr George said. “Playing with fireworks and sparklers can lead to serious injuries — from losing fingers, an eye or a limb to severe, devastating burns. We encourage parents to leave the fireworks to the professionals this summer so everyone can enjoy a safe and fun Fourth of July.”

“Most people think a fireworks injury could never impact them but in split that can all change. My daughter was 5 years old when another child’s sparkler briefly caught the back of her dress and ended up resulting in 70% of her body burned and weeks in a burn unit and months of care.  She will forever have those physical scars and we as her family, will forever have the emotional scars.  Leaving fireworks to professionals will save countless families from the pain and hardship that not only the ‘accident’ brought but the years of healing from those physical and emotional scars have caused us to endure. So many childhoods illness are not preventable, but fireworks injuries are.  A simple decision to go to a professional display rather than neighbor’s yard could end up impacting the rest of your life,” explained Aileen Marquez, a parent of a young burn survivor.

Royce Lee, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at UChicago Medicine, said fireworks displays can often trigger symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can last for hours. “Up to 8% of Americans have had PTSD at some point in their lives, but a much larger number have been exposed to either community violence or warfare,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable to assume somebody in your neighborhood has PTSD and could be triggered by your fireworks display. It’s also likely that the surprise element of unscheduled, at-home fireworks — which can go off at all hours of the day or night — could also make things worse for those with PTSD,” said Dr. Royce.

While many people think they are being patriotic by shooting off neighborhood fireworks, they don’t realize the trauma they could be inflicting on many combat veterans and others who have experienced gun violence.  The sounds, sights and smell of random neighborhood fireworks can easily trigger Post Traumatic Stress explained US Marine Corps Veteran and Chair of IL House Veterans Affairs, State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora).

“Though innocent looking, sparklers account for the second highest percentage of injuries behind firecrackers. Sparklers can reach temperatures of 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the equivalent of handing a child a blow torch.  Dozens of communities, including the City of Chicago, ban the use of sparklers in Illinois,” explained retired Fire Chief Mike Figolah of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance.

Fire officials did a live demo showing how, if a sparkler slightly brushes up against clothing, it can completely engulf the material in flames in a matter of seconds and quickly turned a celebration into a tragedy.

David Gonsky, DVM and Chief Veterinarian of West Loop Veterinary Care was on also hand to explain how the fireworks season can carry significant safety risk to pets. “Fireworks, large crowds and holiday celebrations can be especially traumatic for pets. With their acute sense of hearing, fireworks sound like bombs to pets. That’s why, too often pets run away or harm themselves trying to get out windows and doors during July 4 celebrations,” said Dr. Gonsky.