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Caution: Fireworks injuries reported on rise

| Monday, June 29, 2009

Fireworks are a big part of Americans' July 4 celebrations, but some might result in trips to the emergency room.

The Alle-Kiski Valley's police departments will be beefing up their patrols to enforce the state ban on many types of fireworks.

Aerial fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania without a display permit.

Harrison police Chief Mike Klein suggested that his township would not likely grant additional permits for fireworks displays.

"They are only issued to legitimate display operators," he said. "Our advice would be to attend an officially authorized fireworks display. There will be ample displays advertised."

The Springdale Police Department has received complaints of illegal fireworks use since Friday.

Officer Jeremy Liotta said the department typically gets fireworks reports the week before July 4 each year.

"We see a lot toward Springdale High School and near the railroad tracks," he said. "We have a lot of side streets, so that affects visibility and how much we can see on patrol."

Springdale will deploy eight officers during its carnival each night this week, with help from 10 Westmoreland County sheriff's reserves.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission will release its report on last year's fireworks-related injuries on Tuesday. During 2007, nearly 10,000 people sought emergency room treatment for such injuries -- 64 percent of them in the month surrounding July 4.

In both 2006 and 2007, 11 deaths were reported, according to the safety commission. The report notes an upward trend in fireworks-related injuries during the last 10 years.

Roger Barrette, associate director of the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, said the center staff treats a lot of hand and facial burns around July 4.

"Some of the hand injuries are extreme," he said. "There are a tremendous number of disabilities and mangled hands resulting from fireworks injuries.

"Most people don't appreciate the danger because they've gotten away with playing with fireworks for a while, but it only takes one accident to hurt you.

"It's essentially a bomb going off in your hand," he added.

Barrette said adults often visit the hospital after incidents with mortar and explosive fireworks -- lighting them improperly or not getting out of the way.

And those incidents often involve alcohol.

Children continue to hurt themselves with sparklers.

"We see a lot of toddlers coming in with hand burns from sparklers," he said. "Often it's kids that shouldn't be handling any type of thing that's on fire, and those sparklers generate an awful lot of heat.

"There's a misbelief that sparklers are harmless, but even after they are extinguished they are still hot enough to burn."

Arnold fire Chief J.C. Tedorski said his department would work closely with the police, but would only respond when requested.

"The police are going to be in charge of enforcement, and we encourage residents to follow the law," he said. "The police will be enforcing based on complaints or if they see anything on their patrols."

Tedorski warned spectators and fireworks users to beware of debris.

"As the fireworks drop, they're still incredibly hot," he said. "If they drop on a roof, it could damage the roof or set it on fire, so fireworks are always a hazard to surrounding property.

"They're a hazard to people who set them off, too."

Check your gas grill

Tedorski said gas grills are less of a hazard, but still dangerous during July 4 celebrations, especially if they haven't been used in a while.

"Every once in a while we'll get a grill with a leak near the connection, especially if the hose connecting to the propane tank is dried out; it's more likely to crack," he said. "If the hose is properly seated and is still flexible, it should be in good shape."

Fireworks safety tips

The National Council for Fireworks Safety offers several tips for handling fireworks.

Remember: All aerial fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania.

• Use fireworks outdoors only.

• Always have water (a hose or bucket) handy.

• Don't try to alter or combine fireworks

• Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

• Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."

• Only people older than 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type.

• Don't ever use homemade fireworks or illegal explosives: They can kill you. Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.

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