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Ari Cohen, MD, chief ofPediatric Emergency Medical Services at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, explains how to keep kids safe around fireworks on the 4th of July.

Q: What should parents know about fireworks as the 4th of July approaches?

A: Fireworks are not toys. They are basically explosives of various kinds that either make noise or produce light or both. In Massachusetts it is illegal to sell, possess or use fireworks. This is punishable by fine or imprisonment. The word "fireworks" is very broadly defined in the Massachusetts laws to include even sparklers. All fireworks involve combustion and therefore have the potential to cause fire and burns. Every year the MGH Emergency Department sees multiple patients who have sustained significant burns that will produce life-long disfigurement. We also see the results of homes that have been burned to the ground due to fire caused by fireworks. Every year we also see devastating hand injuries secondary to fireworks that explode in the hands of children and adults. This can result from improper handling or defective fireworks. Some of these fireworks have the explosive power of military weapons and the results of use by amateurs can be devastating.

Q: Are “sparklers” safe?

A: Unfortunately even sparklers cause injuries - usually burns. But sparklers when placed inside containers can produce explosive force as well.

Q: Which fireworks are the least safe?

A: One of the most dangerous types of fireworks are those that become projectiles or produce projectiles. "Bottle rockets" and "Roman Candles" are just some of the examples of these types of fireworks. They place not only the user at risk but also innocent bystanders. Every year my ophthalmologic colleagues see multiple eye injuries that can result in blindness or require removal of the eyeball due to these projectiles. Often the user is not the victim.

Q: What are some tips for keeping kids safe from fireworks?

A: There is no truly safe approach to using explosives especially when children are involved. Children often do not understand the consequences of their actions or the destructive potential of fireworks. The best policy is to explain the risks to your children and to not provide them with access to fireworks. Explaining to a parent that their child will no longer be able to use their hand is not a discussion any parent wants to be a part of.

Q: What should I do if my child is injured by fireworks?

A: If anybody is injured by fireworks emergency departments are always available for all significant burns or injuries. Minor injuries can often be dealt with at home with consultation with the patient’s primary care provider. Common sense and a healthily respect for the destructive power of fireworks is the best prevention and will prevent me from seeing your child in the ED this year.