Fireworks safety: How you can prevent burns and injuries

Close-up image of a sparkler burning

Who doesn’t love fireworks on the Fourth of July? They’re the perfect addition to any cookout and are considered a staple in any Independence Day celebration.

However, it’s important to make sure we’re celebrating safety, too.

Fireworks-related injuries are the most common on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

In fact, 280 people on average go to the emergency department every day in the month around the Fourth of July holiday.

Fireworks can cause injuries including burns, lacerations and foreign objects in the eye, and death. Make the choice to protect yourself and your family from fireworks injuries by following these tips.


There are more than 1 million burn injuries in the United States per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Typically, adults ages 18-35 are the most affected.

More than 53% of injuries sustained last year by fireworks were burns.

In fact, sparklers, which are often thought to be benign, can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (For context, water begins boiling at 120 degrees.)

It’s important to know that there are three types of burns: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree.

A first-degree burn is also called a superficial burn or wound.

  • It’s an injury that affects the first layer of your skin.
  • First-degree burns are one of the mildest forms of skin injuries, and they usually don’t require medical treatment.
  • The symptoms of first-degree burns are often minor and tend to heal after several days. The most common things you may notice at first are skin redness, pain and swelling.

A second-degree burn is more serious because the damage extends beyond the top layer of skin.

  • This type of burn causes the skin to blister and become extremely red and sore.
  • Some second-degree burns take longer than three weeks to heal, but most heal within two to three weeks without scarring, but often with pigment changes to the skin.
  • Treatments for a mild second-degree burn generally include running cool water over the skin for 15 minutes or longer, taking over-the-counter pain medication and applying antibiotic cream to blisters. If you see blistering with a burn, you should consider consulting with a doctor.

A third-degree burn is the most severe.

  • They cause the most damage and extend through every layer of skin.
  • There is a misconception that third-degree burns are the most painful. However, with this type of burn, the damage is so extensive that there may not be any pain because of nerve damage.
  • Never attempt to self-treat a third-degree burn. Call 911 immediately. While you’re waiting for medical treatment, raise the injury above your heart. Don’t get undressed, but make sure no clothing is stuck to the burn.

How to avoid most common fireworks injuries

Most of the fireworks-related injuries we see in the Emergency Department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center involve extremities.

Here are tips to avoid common injuries:

  • Never lean over fireworks when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance right after lighting them.
  • If you find unexploded fireworks, leave them be. Never try to relight or handle them. Soak them with water and throw them away.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move away from them quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks are done burning, douse with plenty of water before throwing them away to prevent a trash fire.
  • Do not experiment with homemade fireworks or fireworks made for professional displays (these will be packaged in brown paper).
  • Parents and caretakers should always closely supervise teens using fireworks.
  • Parents should not allow young children to handle or use fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors.
  • Ensure family members are at a safe distance when lighting fireworks. For aerial fireworks, you’ll want them to be back about 150 feet. (That’s about half the length of a basketball court.)
  • Don’t use fireworks when consuming alcohol or drugs.
  • When you’re at a commercial fireworks show, check to see if the event is organized by licensed professionals, with proper permits and insurance. Choose a safe seating distance from the display, and check for the presence of fire and emergency medical services (EMS) on-site.
  • There are safer substitutes for fireworks, such as party poppers or glow sticks. Some event organizers are moving toward hosting drone light shows at community events.

Fireworks are meant to be enjoyed, but you'll enjoy them much more knowing your family is safe.

When an emergency strikes, turn to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s full-service, state-of-the-art emergency departments

Our facilities are equipped to handle any medical emergency.

Find a location near you


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