The Independence Day holiday weekend is a favorite of Wisconsin residents who want to enjoy summer to the fullest through family gatherings, fun picnics and celebrations, outdoor recreation and fireworks.
Planning ahead can help to keep those activities safe for everyone, said Nathan Larsen, M.D., an Emergency Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Medical Centers-New London and Waupaca.
“It’s a great time for families and friends to enjoy the summer together,” said Dr. Larsen. “Unfortunately, we often see a number of injuries and heat-related illnesses every year that could be avoided if extra precautions are taken.”
While fireworks are an enjoyable and traditional part of July 4th celebrations nationwide, home fireworks-related incidents are responsible for thousands of injuries—and some deaths—every year.
The. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported in 2021, there were more than 11,500 injuries sustained by both children and adults who were treated in emergency departments across the country. About 32% of the emergency department-treated fireworks-related injuries in 2021 were for burns. The parts of the body most often injured by fireworks were hands and fingers (an estimated 31% of injuries) along with head, face, and ears (an estimated 21%).
“Leaving fireworks to the experts is the best plan,” Dr. Larsen said. “Even sparklers can be dangerous. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt some metals.”
In addition to burns, other common injuries include eye injuries, hand fractures and lacerations, facial injuries and hearing loss.
Fireworks explosions can exceed 150 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Parents should also bring hearing protection for young children during concerts and parades, which may have loud marching bands, trucks and sirens, he said.
“If you do choose to light fireworks at home, stick to legal fireworks and follow safety guidelines for their use,” Dr. Larsen said.
Some basic fireworks guidelines from the National Safety Council include:
- Keep spectators at a safe distance.
- Always wear eye protection when lighting fireworks.
- Only light legal fireworks on the ground in areas that are fire resistant.
- Don’t point fireworks or sparklers at anyone.
- Never combine alcohol with lighting fireworks.
- Don’t attempt to relight a “dud.” Instead, put it in a bucket of water for several hours.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher, water hose or buckets of water nearby.
- Never let young children handle the fireworks, and always supervise older kids who are using fireworks.
Fires and Grilling
About 70% of adults in the U.S. own a grill or a smoker, said the National Fire Protection Association. That means lots of people will be using them over the July 4th holiday to make tasty picnic meals for family and friends. That also means an added risk of burns. July is the peak month for grill fires, and between 2017 and 2021, more than 22,000 people each year were seen in emergency departments because of grill-related injuries—about half from contact burns.
“Nearly half of those contact burn injuries are seen in children under age five, with many bumping or touching hot grills, or even falling into the grill or hot coals,” Dr. Larsen said. “Always keep children away from the grill area.”
People also should observe proper safety protocol for their grill and operate it away from structures, as grills of all types are responsible for thousands of house fires annually.
With more than 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, the opportunities for participating in water activities over the holiday are vast, and it’s important for people to take precautions.
“Number one, alcohol and boating should never mix,” said Dr. Larsen. “And there always should be a life jacket on board for everyone on the vessel, that includes canoes and kayaks.”
The potential for collisions or passengers falling into the water increase with alcohol use. Drinking and swimming also do not mix, as alcohol reduces inhibition, meaning some swimmers may engage in risky behavior such as swimming out further than normal, Dr. Larsen said.
“Designating a person in your group to be a ‘water watcher’ to keep an eye on swimmers can help ensure safety for everyone involved,” Dr. Larsen said. “Pools pose a particular drowning danger to young children.”
Older children and teens are more likely to drown in natural waterways including ponds, lakes and rivers, so it’s important to observe safety even with more experienced swimmers.
“Even adults can get fatigued while swimming or develop muscle cramps, such as from heat exhaustion, which can increase risk of drowning,” Dr. Larsen said.
When enjoying outdoor activities, always wear sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, and consider wearing protective clothing such as hats and lightweight shirts with SPF protective fabric. Sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes, according to the CDC.
Additionally, heat stroke and heat exhaustion can happen quickly, Dr. Larsen said. Heat exhaustion symptoms can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, cold and clammy skin, tiredness or weakness, nausea and headaches.
Heatstroke symptoms can include skin that’s red, hot and dry, without sweating; rapid pulse, throbbing headache, upset stomach, as well as dizziness, confusion, irritability or lost consciousness. Untreated heat stroke can lead to organ damage.
“Anyone who suspects someone is experiencing heat stroke should call 911 right away,” Dr. Larsen said. “Don’t give the person anything to drink, but you can move the person to a cooler place, and try to lower their temperature with cool, damp cloths or ice packs.”
One of the key factors that lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke is dehydration, he said.
“Always drink enough water and if you’re thirsty, it’s likely that you’re already becoming dehydrated,” Dr. Larsen said. “Alcohol and caffeine also contribute to dehydration. Be aware of what you’re consuming.”
Dr. Larsen noted that by taking extra care this summer, he hopes community members will be able to celebrate Independence Day safely with friends and family.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.