Don't let happy holiday create tragic memories

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Summer has just officially started, and we're already approaching the milestone Fourth of July holiday by which the rest of the season is measured.

Complicating this year's celebration is the day of the week on which it falls, Tuesday, meaning a lucky few will get Monday off for a four-day weekend, while the rest of us will make do with a one-day holiday.

Regardless of the time we have for spending with family and friends, Independence Day carries special expectations and dangers.

Besides the hazards of driving and the penchant for some to rely on alcohol to enjoy the holiday, July 4 has the potential to carry special perils associated with fireworks.

Despite recent rains, most of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas remains tinder dry, just waiting for a spark to touch off a costly grassfire -- in the process, robbing volunteer firefighters of a day with their families.

And, although the most dangerous explosives and rockets have been removed from the amateur celebrant's arsenal, those fireworks still available in Nebraska have caused numerous, serious injuries and even deaths over the years.

Firework injuries peaked in 2001 in Nebraska -- a year many of us bought fireworks for both Independence Day and to celebrate the new millennium, with 184 people hurt.

The number was down to 123, but climbed back to 140 in 2005.

According to the Nebraska State Fire Marshal's office, most of the 2005 injuries occurred between July 1 and 5, with almost half of them on the Fourth itself. Of the 115 injuries were times were reported, all but four occurred between noon and midnight. More than 20 percent of the injuries occurred in Omaha, although most fireworks are illegal there.

The majority of the injuries were first- and second-degree burns, and most involved the eyes, head and face, with hands and fingers being the next most commonly injured areas of the body.

It never hurts to remind ourselves of ways to make the Fourth of July safe. Tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Council on Fireworks Safety and Nebraska Health & Human Services System include:

* Stay away from illegal or homemade fireworks, which can be deadly.

* Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks.

* Fireworks are not toys; even sparklers can cause burns.

* Have a garden hose and bucket filled with water handy in case of malfunction or fire.

* Never shoot fireworks off in metal or glass containers.

* Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves and flammable materials.

* Never try to relight a "dud." Let is sit for 15 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

And, while three people were injured at public fireworks displays last year, they remain by far the safest way to view fireworks.

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