How to stay safe this Fourth of July with these tips from an emergency room physician

·5 min read

Fourth of July is one of the busiest — if not the busiest — emergency room day out of the year.

Before the pandemic, the average number of emergency room visits for July 4 injuries in the U.S. was over 45 thousand, according to the Pew Research Center. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported injuries and death related to fireworks spiked in 2020 with more people using fireworks on their own.

Outside of fireworks, Fourth of July emergency room visits consist of common ailments, Dr. Glenn Hardesty, emergency medical physician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, said the holiday concentrates the factors in one day.

Hardesty said emergency room visits usually consist of burns, falls, boating accidents and firework related injuries.

“A little dose of common sense over the holiday weekend goes a long way in preventing injury this upcoming holiday season,” he said.

Whether you’re planning on lighting fireworks and sparklers or spending the day on the lake, here are some ways to stay safe this holiday weekend.

Grilling Safety

July is the peak month for grill fires, with 18 percent of incidents throughout the year happening during that time, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Between 2014-2018, an average of 19,700 patients per year went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills, whether it was direct grill burns or contact with hot objects.

When grilling at home, keep the grill away from the house and deck railings. Make sure the lid is open before turning on the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, the National Fire Protection Association advises waiting five minutes for the gas to dissipate before reigniting if it doesn’t immediately ignite.

Burns

There are three kinds of burns, most commonly known as first, second and third degree burns.

Whether it’s a burn from grilling or fireworks, the first thing people should do if they’re burned is to cool the injury under cold water to lessen the burn, Hardesty said. Tap water is ideal, but burns can also be cooled in water from a cooler for a short period of time.

“You just want to cool those tissues around there so if it’s still burning, it stops the burn,” Hardesty said.

Not all burns need an emergency room visit. Once a smaller burn is cooled and clean, treating it with an over-the-counter ointment like Neosporin is an effective remedy, he said.

If you have a blister from a burn, Hardesty said it’s important not to pop it despite the temptation.

“Everything inside of that blister is sterile, but once you pop it it’s no longer sterile,” he said.

A Fort Worth teen was killed Thursday night in a fireworks accident.
A Fort Worth teen was killed Thursday night in a fireworks accident.

Fireworks Safety

Fireworks related injuries are common around Fourth of July, Hardesty said, with people shooting off the projectiles unsure of where they’ll take off or unable to read the directions if they’re not written in English or Spanish.

Burns can happen when handling fireworks and eye injuries are other common emergency room cases during the holiday.

Hardesty advises parents to keep sparklers away from their children’s faces to avoid getting the embers in their eyes. Having them wear sunglasses adds a layer of protection.

Reporting illegal fireworks

Both Fort Worth and Arlington have ways to report illegal fireworks activity.

Fort Worth residents are asked to call 817-392-4444 or report through the MyFW app using the red banner at the bottom of a smartphone screen. Reports can also be made at reportfireworks.fortworthtexas.gov.

Arlington residents are asked to report illegal firework activity at arlingtontx.gov/reportfireworks or using the Ask Arlington app on a smartphone.

This house with the Texas flag on its roof was rebuilt after the 2011 wildfires.
This house with the Texas flag on its roof was rebuilt after the 2011 wildfires.

Lake and Pool Safety

If you’re spending Fourth of July at the lake, Hardesty said to never dive into the water. Because Texas lakes are muddy, it’s hard to determine their depth. Diving in shallow water could cause severe outcomes impacting the nervous system among other injuries

Hardesty said alcohol consumption is among the leading causes of preventable boating accidents, so he advises against drinking while handling a boat. Kids on board a boat should wear life jackets at all times and should also have a flotation device on when hanging around a pool.

Sunscreen

There are different levels of SPF sunscreens on the market, but Hardesty said the best sunscreen is the one you put on. No matter how high your sunscreen’s SPF is, he said it should be reapplied throughout the day every 90 to 120 minutes.

The type of sunscreen you use, whether it’s a cream or spray, also doesn’t matter as long as you put what you have on and reapply, he said. When putting on sunscreen before getting into water, wait about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the sunscreen to soak in.

If you’re on medication, check to make sure it doesn’t cause extra sensitivity to the sun to prevent even worse sunburns.

Watch for wildlife

Keep an eye out for wildlife, especially animals that carry rabies, when outside celebrating the Fourth of July.

Skunks, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and feral cats, in particular feral kittens, are all common animals in North Texas that can carry rabies, Hardesty said.

There are three common snake types in the area: Rattlesnakes, Copperheads and Cottonmouths, also known as Water Moccasins.

The antivenom for the different types of snakes is the same, so if you’re bitten by one Hardesty discourages from trying to capture it.