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How to have a safe 4th of July

POSTED: July 2, 2012 9:30 p.m.

Savannah firefighters and the Joseph M. Still Burn Center Foundation urge caution and safety for the 4th of July.


Georgia law bans the possession and use of fireworks in the state.  The Georgia legislature has defined illegal fireworks as any object that propels itself or a projectile — such as bottle rockets and roman candles — and any item that produces a report (“bang”) — such as firecrackers and bottle rockets. Generally, any type of sparkler, sparkling shower, and whirling shower items are permitted under Georgia law.


Savannah firefighters encourage citizens to follow safety precautions and to read and follow all label warnings and instructions before using any type of fireworks.


Savannah Fire Chief Charles G. Middleton urges everyone to play it safe around legal fireworks, especially stressing the need for adult supervision of children.


“Be a responsible parent and protect your children,” said Middleton, who urged parents to purchase only legal fireworks from Georgia retailers who sell items in compliance with state law.


The purchase of fireworks at neighboring state retailers is discouraged, as those retailers have no burden to comply with Georgia laws. The fireworks purchased from these retailers may actually be illegal in Georgia. 


The ultimate safety precaution is for citizens to forego the backyard variety of fireworks celebrations and instead enjoy one of the many professionally staged fireworks displays. Savannah’s celebration is scheduled for Wednesday night on River Street.


Fireworks safety tips
• Obey state and local laws
• Read and follow all label warnings and directions
• Use fireworks outdoors only
• Use fireworks on smooth, level surfaces and away from buildings and flammable materials.
• Use fireworks only as intended. Never combine or alter fireworks.
• Never try to re-light fireworks that malfunction (“duds”).
• Always have a water supply nearby (hose or bucket).
• Spectators should maintain a safe distance from fireworks.
• Never use homemade fireworks. Report illegal explosives.
• Adult supervision of children is essential, even with sparklers.
• Forego backyard celebrations and enjoy professionally staged fireworks displays.


Burn professionals at Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc., warn that there are increased risks of burns associated with the 4th of July holiday.


“We treat thousands of burn patients each year, and in many of those cases, there was a moment of carelessness that changed everything,” said Dr. Fred Mullins, the president of JMSBC, Inc. He also serves as medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusa. “If I could tell people one thing, it would be: ‘You can never, ever be too careful.’”


For example, it is the little things that make a difference when using a grill. First, make sure the grill is at least 10 feet away from buildings or bushes before you use it. Check gas lines to make sure they are not clogged, do not use gasoline to start a grill and never start a grill with the lid closed.


“Grills get very hot and can be unstable,” Dr. Mullins said. “When you are grilling, make sure you have a safe area of at least three feet around a grill that is off-limits to children.”


Other grilling tips include:
• Use utensils with long handles to stay clear of the fire.
• Dispose of hot coals properly by dousing with water and stirring the ashes.
• Keep lighter fluid containers away from grill.
• Utility/barbecue lighters are not safe for children and should not be left outdoors where the elements may weaken or damage the plastic.
• Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when operating a grill.
• Replace nicked or scratched connectors.
• Always turn on utility light before you turn on gas or propane.
• Always shut off propane tank valve when not in use.    
• Never use a match to check for leaks.
• Keep gas hoses as far away from grease and hot surfaces as possible.


Grills are not the only Independence Day burn hazard. In 2011, fireworks accounted for an estimated 9,600 injuries each year, with more than half of those coming in the month between June 17 and July 17, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.


“There are no ‘safe’ fireworks,” said Dr. Mullins. “We see burns from sparklers each year, just as we see burns from larger fireworks each year.  I cannot stress enough that fireworks should only be handled by adults. Let children enjoy the show, not be part of it.”


Other tips for fireworks safety include:
• Never use fireworks of any kind indoors
• Establish a “launch area” that is a safe distance from buildings, flammable vegetation and people.
• Designate a safety person, a “shooter” and a cleanup crew.
• Light fireworks one at a time.
• Never throw fireworks.
• Never light fireworks held in someone’s hand.


“It is especially important to be careful with fireworks in light of the drought conditions we are seeing across the Southeast,” Dr. Mullins said.


For more information about burn care, call (706) 863-9595.

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