Launching a super holiday: tips and alternatives for staying safe on the Fourth of July

Independence Day offers up a sizzling summer tradition of barbeques, parades, and pyrotechnics. Snuggled up on a blanket, looking skyward for exploding bursts of “chrysanthemums,” “horsetails,” and “fish,” produces oohs and aahs and lots of great memories. However, alternatives to at-home fireworks and extra attention to safety can help keep the celebration completely stellar.

Laws and ordinances on fireworks vary considerably by state and sometimes even by county or city. But most fire safety and medical professionals agree that fireworks are best left to the professionals. Andy Rathbun, reporting for the St. Paul Pioneer Press on TwinCites.com, cites a 2014 national study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which found that “More than 50 percent of reported injuries caused by fireworks involve burns.”

In a specific breakdown of more than 10,500 fireworks-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms last year, Rathbun noted, “At 36 percent, hands and fingers received the highest percentage of injuries. Eyes followed at 19 percent. Faces, head and ears combined for another 19 percent.” Kids ages 5 to 9 had the highest rate of injuries, “and males were much more likely to be hurt.”

A KidsHealth “Fireworks Safety” article pointedly urges that “Kids should never play with fireworks. Things like firecrackers, rockets, and sparklers are just too dangerous. If you give kids sparklers, make sure they keep them outside and away from the face, clothing, and hair.” They cite the temperature of sparklers even higher than report “Sparklers can reach 1,800°F (982°C) — hot enough to melt gold.” If kids insist on sparklers, adults need to supervise closely, and discarded sparkler wires should be doused in a bucket of water.

Many of us have never considered alternatives to fireworks, but there are plenty of fun options. Last year Megan Francis, mother of five, posted “7 Safer Alternatives to Fireworks,” on Babble™, a blog hosted courtesy of Disney. Likewise, Maria Mora  has posted “6 Safe Alternatives to Fireworks” on the She Knows blog. Glow sticks appeared on both sites! Mora suggested, “Try picking up glow sticks and glow jewelry in bulk online for the kids at heart in your family.” Francis noted the local dollar store as yet another low-cost resource. Mora said, “For an extra fun take on glow sticks toss them in a swimming pool or baby pool at night.”

Another idea from Mora? “From water balloon to splash toys, water can make or break a summer barbecue. This year, make water the centerpiece instead of fireworks.” Using hoses, sprinklers, and spray toys, kids (and grown-ups!) can get a little (or a lot) wild.

She also advised that “If you crave something exploding on the Fourth of July, try a piñata. While safer than fireworks, a piñata still gives you a thrill as kids and grown-ups take turns trying to break it open.

Francis offered yet another bang-up idea: “Usually associated with New Year's Eve, confetti poppers make a satisfying noise and kids love when the colorful paper flies out. Supervise young kids and make sure they know to point the poppers away from their faces.”

Exploring alternatives and keeping a close eye on kids this Fourth of July will help make sure the fun stays fun. And as for furry family members, leave pets at home and inside during firework displays. Crowds and explosions are scary for them.