Updated July 5 at 1:30 p.m. to correct Dr. Erica Hodgman’s name.
An explosion rocked a Darnestown house on Tuesday resulting in two adults being seriously injured and more than $400,000 in damage, according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.
The cause? A “fireworks mishap” according to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer.
The Fourth of July is a “very busy time” for Dr. Ryan Zimmerman, an orthopedic surgeon at the MedStar Curtis National Hand Center in Baltimore.
Zimmerman said the fireworks injuries he sees run the gamut of mild burns to finger and hand amputations.
“It can unfortunately impact the rest of their life,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a major problem.”
Dr. Erica Hodgman, director, Pediatric Burn Program, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore said she’s seen similar dire outcomes.
“I’ve seen sparks from fireworks actually catch a house on fire and cause the entire house to burn down, which actually resulted in fatal injuries,” Hodgman said.
To prevent injuries, MCFRS advises people to consider where they see firework displays: “Public fireworks displays, conducted by trained professionals, are the smartest and safest way to view fireworks because they are established under controlled settings and safety regulations and monitored by public safety organizations.”
There are plenty of public firework options available around the county including Rockville, Germantown and Poolesville.
Another problem: many adults believe that sparklers are safe and “people are more likely to give them to their kids,” Zimmerman said.
In Maryland, it is illegal to own fireworks without a permit, but it is legal to own “gold-label” sparklers (they do not have chlorates or perchlorates) in many parts of the state, except for Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard and Harford counties, as well as Baltimore City and Ocean City.
While sparklers may seem harmless, Piringer said that they are dangerous, especially for children.
“Most people think that’s just an innocent thing that they put in the hands of kids. I equate it to the fact that I don’t think you want to give your kid a lighted cigarette lighter and just say: ‘run around with this,’” Piringer said. “It’s basically the same thing.”
He also warns that sparklers can cause burn injuries, and they can easily light clothes or nearby combustibles on fire.
“Something as simple as a sparkler burns at about 2,000 degrees, and that is very hot,” Piringer said. “That’s hot enough to melt glass.”
He said that along with traditional types of fireworks, sparklers are prohibited in the county “for people’s safety and wellness.”
On its website, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue explains why the county bans fireworks: “Hundreds of children are permanently disfigured due to burns by fireworks around the country each year.”
The website also states that each year fireworks in the United States cause approximately:
- 12 deaths
- 2,000 serious eye injuries
- 5,000 other injuries (including amputated fingers)
Despite the laws, Piringer says he still does see firework-induced injuries from time to time in the county.
“Most often, it’s a young child that mistakes a firework in a junk drawer or someone unknowingly brings fireworks home, and a child thinks it’s something like a candle, and it discharges in their hand, and they have some serious injury,” Piringer said.
Hodgman also has seen a variety of fireworks injuries.
“It’s probably a 50-50 mix of actual skin burns, ranging from a more superficial injury that just takes some care and will heal and might leave a little bit of a scar to a burn that actually needs skin grafting and leaves pretty significant scarring,” Hodgman said.
She said she also sees musculoskeletal injuries that result from someone holding a firework in their hand or lighting a firework and aiming it at someone.
Hodgman also warns that keeping fireworks in or near a house is extremely dangerous.
Piringer added that since rules differ around the DMV, there can be confusion for people who travel outside of Montgomery County about what they can purchase outside the county and bring back in.
“You may work downtown and be driving and see the fireworks stand, pick up a few things, and bring it home, unknowingly breaking the law,” Piringer said.
Also, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Captain Erin Wirth, who works in the Fire and Explosive Investigations Unit, has not just seen people buying illegal fireworks, she has seen people making their own.
“They have all of the components that they are mixing by hand,” Wirth said. “This is a whole other safety hazard.”
While people cannot use fireworks on July Fourth, they can still use snap-and-pop noise makers, snakes and party poppers, Piringer said.
Also, if people still want cute photos of their children on the Fourth of July without fireworks or sparklers, Hodgman recommends using confetti poppers, glow sticks and glow necklaces.
Residents can report firework violations to law enforcement by calling the Montgomery County Police Department non-emergency line at 301-279-8000.
Piringer’s final message for county residents: “We encourage people to celebrate wisely and go to a public fireworks display.”