One of our favorite 4th of July traditions in Bay Head, New Jersey, is to head up to the beach and watch the Jenkinson's professional fireworks display fired off from the Pt. Pleasant Beach Boardwalk, about a mile to the north of us.
Unfortunately, a favorite 4th of July tradition of the Bay Head Chapter of the Idiots of America Club is to fire off amateur fireworks (illegal in the State of New Jersey) -- firecrackers and bottle rockets -- right in the faces of the crowds out there on our beach, an experience that wouldn't be complete without encouraging their children to get so close to the explosives that I start to wish the National Guard were patrolling our beach in their 5.11 Tactical Pants. Last year, there was a dad out there firing off serious firecrackers, his toddler daughter with 1800-degree-Fahrenheit sparklers in hand. Thankfully, before the little toddler daughter came to any harm, the guy let out a hideous bellow, having burned his arm so badly he most likely ended up in the hospital. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. This year, his brother Earle was back with a fifth grade boy in charge of the artillery. As a group of five of them danced around the bottle rockets in the dark, laughing and calling out "I think I know how to do it," I packed up my family and left the fireworks celebration early. We watched the Jenkinsons display from the relative safety of the crowd huddled together on the steps off the beach, away from the amateurs who were firing upon us.
These things are dangerous, people! According to the experts (not just mean old lady Van de Kamp), fireworks are only truly safe when a trained professional, preferably miles from you, is setting them off. Fireworks caused an estimated 9,200 injuries that required treatment in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2006, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Seven out of 10 of those injuries -- approximately 6,400 -- occurred during the one-month period surrounding the Fourth of July. The damage isn't limited to life and limb, either. In 2004, fireworks started an estimated 1,600 structure fires and 600 vehicle fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, resulting in 20 injuries and $21 million in direct property damage. Groups like Prevent Blindness America and the National Fire Protection Association take a hard line on fireworks, telling people there's no safe way to use them yourself. Small firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers lead to more than 70 percent of fireworks injuries in the United States each year. Sparklers burn at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 9x the boiling point of water). Would you give your toddler a pot of boiling water as a playtoy? Then why would you put something 9 times as hot in her hand, or leave it behind on the beach for my kids to step on as they make their way home in the dark? In 2006, sparklers caused 1,000 injuries. For children under 5, they accounted for the largest number of estimated injuries, about one-third of all injuries for that age group, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Hands are the part of the body most often injured by fireworks, followed by the eyes. About half the bottle rocket injuries involve the eyes, and almost 30 percent involve the head, face or ear. While hands usually suffer burns, the eyes can be injured in one of three ways by fireworks:
- They can be burned, of course.
- But eyes also can be harmed merely by the concussion from a firework. When a firework explodes close to the eye, the shock wave causes damage. It can cause the lens to dislocate. You don't have anything go in the eye, but the percussive force causes damage.
- Eyes also can be injured by penetrating debris from a fireworks explosion, or by a flying firework like a bottle rocket.
Update: If you're still having any doubts, see PantherGirl's comment on this post.
So I've said my piece, but I'm afraid that the perpetrators are not likely to be reading or listening. Maybe next year I'll put in an advance request with Bay Head's finest that, instead of wasting their time on parking tickets for a two hour period, they get out on the beach and make some illegal fireworks arrests.