Fireworks-related injuries and deaths jumped during pandemic, report shows
By Eduardo Medina
Fireworks-related injuries and deaths in the United States jumped in 2020 compared with the previous year, according to a report that cites the pandemic as a likely factor in the increase.
Eighteen people died in 2020 after episodes that involved fireworks, compared with 12 people the previous year — a 50% increase — according to the report, by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 15,600 people went to emergency rooms because of fireworks injuries in 2020, a 56% increase from the 10,000 injured in 2019. The increase came at a time when many hospitals across the country were overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
About 66% of the fireworks-related injuries last year occurred from June 21 to July 21, and the two leading sources for the injuries year-round were firecrackers and sparklers, the report found.
The number of injuries last year was the highest since at least 2001, the earliest year for which data are available on the agency’s website.
Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said it was difficult to pinpoint an exact reason for the increase but said it was most likely tied to the pandemic.
“Many cities canceled July 4 public fireworks displays during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this may have spurred consumers to use fireworks in their own backyards,” Davis said in an interview.
Los Angeles was among the cities that canceled all fireworks shows last year, causing some residents to put on their own amateur, and more dangerous, shows, said Erik Scott, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. On July 4 alone, the city received 429 more emergency calls than it would on an average day, he said, and many involved fireworks.
“The kids are the ones that we see that are frequently injured, statistically,” Scott said.
Children younger than 14 made up 24% of all fireworks-related injuries in the country from June 21 through July 21, 2020, according to the report.
But the biggest increase in injuries was among those 20 to 24 years old, Davis said. They accounted for about 50 episodes in 2019 but about 400 in 2020, a 700% increase. The cancellation of fireworks shows last year may have accounted for the increase, Davis said.
For some in New York City — where fireworks are illegal to buy, sell or ignite — setting off colorful and loud explosions into the wee hours of the morning last year was an escape from the weariness and boredom that came from staying at home. For others, the fireworks were a way to show defiance against law enforcement at a time when millions across the country were protesting police brutality.
Of the 18 people in the country who died last year as a result of fireworks, eight of them had used drugs or alcohol beforehand, the report states.
One death happened in Mount Healthy, Ohio, about 10 miles north of Cincinnati. It occurred a day after July 4 festivities, when a 63-year-old man was fatally struck in the head by fireworks, authorities said.
“It was an extremely busy day,” said Sgt. Greg Nolte of the Mount Healthy Police Department. “We definitely got some calls last year. And what people get worried about is fireworks on their house, on their property, on their trees.”
A man in Jersey City, New Jersey, died last year after being hit in the neck by fireworks on July 4, NJ.com reported.
In Las Vegas, there were so many 911 calls last year about fireworks on July 4 that it temporarily crashed the city’s emergency dispatch system, said Tim Szymanski, spokesman for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.
“You could go anywhere in the city and just stand on a hill someplace, and you could see all the people using the fireworks,” Szymanski said. “I think everybody was confined to a hole because of the pandemic, but they wanted to do something, so they got their fireworks.”
As people prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, Davis said, they should never allow children to use fireworks, including sparklers, which burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
People should also keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby, she said, in case of emergencies.
“We are hoping since public fireworks displays are on again this year as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, people will take advantage of those,” Davis said. “That’s the safest way to watch fireworks.”