Every year millions of Americans across the world celebrate Independence Day with the waving of Old Glory, Bar-B-Que, and fireworks. As a Marine Corps Veteran, I enjoy this time of year celebrating our nation’s independence. However, as a Paramedic Veteran I know that with each celebration we see the potential for disaster.
I am writing this as an ‘open letter’ to the millions of Americans out there celebrating our great nation. My hope is that these words of caution will leave you with a safe, happy weekend and without the need to call 911.
Okay, let’s pull the cork on alcohol and get it over with. Statistically speaking July 4th has the highest percentage of alcohol related vehicle deaths over any other holiday. We talk about drinking and driving 24/7, 365 but still every year (every day really) people decide it is a good idea to get behind the wheel intoxicated, and drive to wherever. So here is a list of suggestions to help keep your 4th safer.
• If you plan to drink, arrange for a designated driver or public transportation.
• If you are having a party, arrange for public transportation for your guests or provide accommodations where they can ‘sleep it off’ before driving.
• Always wear your seatbelts.
• If you see someone who is intoxicated, do not let them drive—friend or foe.
• Don’t drink and motorboat. (Either one could be disastrous).
Yes, I have tried to provide a little humor but there is nothing humorous about drinking and operating a vehicle. Have fun. Drink a beer or two but be safe. Don’t let your story start with, “Hold my beer and watch this” and end with “you will never believe what that paramedic said to me.”
Now that we have covered libations, it is time to light up the BBQ. Like any good summer…well, we don’t really need a holiday to Que up some ribs, smoke some pork, or grill some burgers an dogs, but the fourth seems to be the day we showcase our smoking and grilling skills. It is a celebration so why not? That being said, this is July and it tends to be a little on the warm side; okay if you live below the Mason Dixon Line it is hotter than the face of the sun. So, we should be on the lookout for heat related emergencies. Proper hydration, not alcohol, is import but not the only thing you should keep in mind when out having a fun time in the sun. Here are some indications to remember to help prevent heatstroke and/or heat exhaustion:
• Changes in mental status or behavior, such as confusion, agitation, slurred speech
• Hot, dry skin or heavy sweating
• Flushed skin
• Fainting, especially in older adults
• Rapid breathing
• Rapid heartrate
If you or someone you know experience some of these signs and symptoms immediately seek shade or an air-conditioned building (for further suggestions on heatstroke care see ‘Heatstroke’ reference.). If the systems do not begin to subside immediately suspect heatstroke and call 911. To prevent this situation here are a few tips:
• Look not only at the temperature but also at the heat index (see Heat index in ref.)
• Avoid unprotected exposure to direct sun—loose, breathable clothing, and a hat
• Minimize time spent outside in ‘high heat’ part of the day
• Drink plenty of water
• Wear sunscreen; reapply frequently when in water
• Remember kids and grandparents are more susceptible to heat emergencies and should spend less time in heat.
I hope this helps but before we turn the grill off and settle in for the fireworks show; let’s talk a little grill safety. Remember, whether gas or charcoal, to light the grill in a well ventilated area away from structures—i.e. your house. Never leave children—yes, especially drunk adult ones—unattended near open flames. Have a garden hose available (attached to a water source) and finally, make sure the gas is turned off and all flames are extinguished when you are done.
Pull up a lawn chair and prepare for that explosive ending to your 4th of July celebration. You have survived the day and are looking forward to the festivities of the night. Each year the 30 days surrounding this day of celebration see more people involved in firework related injuries than any other time of the year. Fireworks can be fun but are extremely dangerous. Before we get to the list of safety tips, I encourage you to know the laws pertaining to firework purchase and usage in your area. While it may be possible to purchase fireworks in your area, it may not be legal to fire them off in certain locations—i.e. subdivisions, public parking lots, or within the city limits.
Okay, a few safety tips to help get you get through this time of celebration with all your fingers and toes still attached. Statistically speaking more than half of all firework related injuries involve the face and hands so here is how not to be a statistic….
• Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
• Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
• Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals.
• Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
• Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
• Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
• Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
• Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
• Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
• After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
So, I guess all the don’ts take all the fun out of fireworks but it could save you a trip to the Emergency Room. The best practice with fireworks is to find a local firework show and attend with friends and family. Keep the suggestions about alcohol in mind and just have fun. This is a celebration where we remember the birth of your country, spend time with friends and family, and eat lots of good food.
From my family to yours, have a great and wonderful, safe 4th of July Weekend.
Semper Fi and God Bless the USA,
Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Fireworks Information Center.” Website. http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Fireworks/
DisasterDOC. The Most Dangerous Day of the Year? Website https://disasterdoc.net/tag/fourth-of-july-statistics/
Heatstroke: first aid. Mayo Clinic website. April 3, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-heatstroke/basics/art-20056655.
Medical Bag. “Fourth of July Injuries”. Website. http://www.medicalbag.com/grey-matter/fourth-of-july-injuries/article/472651/
National Weather Service ‘Heat Index’ Website. http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/heat_index.shtml
Sauter MB, Frohlich TC. The most dangerous holidays in America. 24/7 Wall St Website. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/12/20/the-most-dangerous-holidays-in-america/2.;
About the Author: John Newton is a National Registered Paramedic and EMS Educator with 20 plus years’ experience. He is a Lead Instructor at Distance CME, the founder of Medic Life Tv, and an EMS blogger.