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Our View: First rule for the Fourth of July: Be safe

From the editorial: "If you do fire off personal fireworks, do so with the utmost of care and caution. All your body parts depend on it."

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Jeff Koterba/Cagle Cartoons

As much fun and as exhilarating as the pops and flashes of fireworks can be — and as safe as we Minnesotans have been about using them when celebrating our independence — we can heed this well-timed annual advice from the Minnesota Medical Association: "Leave the lighting of fireworks to the professionals this Independence Day," the association said in a statement in the run-up to this weekend's festivities.

“We see it every year. Many Minnesotans are injured and wind up in the emergency department because of injuries caused by fireworks,” the association’s president, Dr. Marilyn Peitso, said in a statement last week to the media, including to the News Tribune Opinion page. “Physicians urge people to leave these dangerous explosives to the professionals. Serious injuries can result from accidents with fireworks.”

Every year in the month around July 4, hundreds of Americans a day end up in hospital ERs with fireworks-related injuries. Between June 21 and July 21 in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 7,300 fireworks-related injuries were treated in emergency departments in the U.S. Overall in 2019, 10,000 such injuries were treated in emergency departments. Most often injured were hands and fingers (30%); legs (23%); eyes (15%); head, face, and ears (15%); and arms (10%).

All are body parts most of us are interested in keeping.

In the name of safety — and in response to neighborhood and citizen complaints about fireworks that spiked last year and are on pace to spike even higher this year — the Duluth police and fire departments last week announced they would be issuing tickets for illegal or disturbing fireworks use. Such citations are practically unheard of in Duluth.

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“A commitment to issuing citations will not only restore neighborhood peace, but it also will help to free up resources that can be better served elsewhere,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Stracek said in a statement from the city. “It’s important to remember those in our community who are sensitive to these types of loud disturbances. … Loud bangs can invoke PTSD episodes and be harmful. Loud noises can also negatively impact infants and young children in addition to pets. We want people to have fun, but we also ask that they be respectful.”

Violating a Duluth city ordinance against disturbing your neighborhood could land you a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail. In addition, pretty much any pyrotechnic that goes bang or leaves the ground is a violation of Minnesota state statute.

Beyond safety and peace, every year, approximately 18,500 fires are started accidentally by fireworks, according to the National Fire Protection Association. We’re talking wildfires, of course, but the blazes also include house fires and vehicle fires.

If you’re using fireworks, be sure to have a clear area. And a hose or bucket of water nearby. Also, don't ever stand over a firework when lighting it, never point or throw fireworks at others, and don't look too closely or too quickly to see why a firecracker or bottle rocket didn't go off, the experts advise.

Even a piece of pyrotechnics as seemingly placid as a sparkler — so often just "handed off to children without a second thought," as Forum News Service writer Emma Vatnsdal wrote two summers ago — can burn at a skin-scorching 2,000 or so degrees. That's almost hot enough to melt glass.

With care and caution, personal fireworks can be used safely. Minnesotans prove that. The Gopher State in 2019 ranked sixth-safest for Independence Day by the everything-safety folks at A Secure Life, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wisconsin finished 18th in a ranking that also considered wildfires and holiday-related traffic accidents.

Even super-safe Minnesotans can pay attention to our state's medical association, however. And we can all let this be our first rule for the Fourth: Be safe.

Beyond fireworks, use sunscreen; if you drink, do so responsibly; stay hydrated; be patient and remain cool in holiday traffic; boat safely (already this year in Wisconsin, 13 people have died in boating-related incidents, most of them not wearing a lifejacket, the state DNR reported Monday); keep a close eye on the grill and those around it; and, if you do fire off personal fireworks, do so with the utmost of care and caution.

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All your body parts depend on it.

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