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Our View: The first rule for the Fourth is 'be safe'

From the editorial: "All your body parts depend on it."

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Joe Heller
We are part of The Trust Project.

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 while celebrating our independence — we can heed this well-timed annual advice from the Minnesota Medical Association:

“Let the experts handle the fireworks this summer,” MMA President Dr. Randy Rice said in a statement June 22 to media outlets. “Every year, many Minnesotans are injured and wind up in the emergency department because of injuries caused by fireworks.”

An estimated 15,600 fireworks-related injuries were treated in emergency departments in 2020, according to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Eighteen people died of these injuries, marking a 50% increase in deaths and injuries from 2019 to 2020. Nearly 45% of the injuries were burns, the commission said. Firecrackers hurt 1,600 people, and 900 were hurt by seemingly harmless sparklers.

Most often injured were hands and fingers (an estimated 30% of the time); head, face, and ears (an estimated 22%); and eyes (an estimated 15%). All are body parts most of us are interested in keeping.

In the name of safety, the Duluth Police Department on Friday offered a reminder via social media that “fireworks that shoot in the air are illegal in Minnesota.” (The word “illegal” was bolded for emphasis.)

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“Duluth City Ordinance states that people shall not engage in conduct that disturbs the neighborhood at any time of the day,” the police post further read. “DPD will be patrolling and if found in violation of City Ordinance and State Statutes, you may be cited.”

The Duluth police and fire departments issued a similar advisory last year in response to spiking citizen complaints.

"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 ahead of last summer’s Independence Day. "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, a News Tribune editorial last year pointed out.

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 stated it three 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.

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Beyond fireworks this Fourth of July three-day weekend, use sunscreen, stay hydrated, and keep a close eye on the grill and those around it.

If you drink, do so responsibly. That includes on the water, and this weekend, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and law enforcement agencies statewide are cracking down on drunken boating by participating in the national campaign, “Operation Dry Water,” which includes stepped-up lake patrols. “Boating while intoxicated” is a crime, and it’s dangerous.

If you’re traveling, don’t drink at all, of course, and watch out for and be patient with road work. Speeding in a work zone can result in a $300 fine, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reminded this past week. And there are plenty of work zones this construction season. More than 200 projects on state roads and highways across Minnesota includes at least six up north here: I-535/Blatnik Bridge in Duluth, Highway 194 in Hermantown, Highway 37 at County Road 7 in St. Louis County, Highway 2 from Fosston to Erskine , H ighway 92 in Zerkel , and Highway 71 in Bemidji .

If you do fire off personal fireworks, do so with the utmost care and caution. All your body parts depend on it. Even super-safe Minnesotans can benefit from the annual reminder from our state's medical association.

And we can all let this be our first rule for the Fourth: Be safe.

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