How to avoid burns or worse this Fourth of July

Getting ready for July Fourth? Well, before you change out that propane tank on the barbecue, be sure you’ve refreshed your knowledge with a how-to video or have checked the manufacturer’s instructions. And, before you light up a firework, be sure to have a hose or a bucket of water handy.

Dr. David Greenhalgh at Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento and Deputy Fire Chief Chad Augustin of the Sacramento Fire Department don’t want surgeons, firefighters or EMS crews to get a visit from you or your loved ones over this long holiday weekend. Already, last weekend, Augustin worked on a Life Flight crew rescuing a woman who lighted a cherry bomb and blew off her arm from the elbow down.

“This is a time when we have a lot of injuries to both adults and kids,” Greenhalgh said. “We have campfire accidents. We have firework injuries. They say they have safe fireworks, but the difference between a safe firework and an unsafe firework is that an unsafe firework can explode, so it can blow your hand apart whereas the safe form just burns.”

Campfires also pose a hazard even within the city limits of Sacramento, Augustin said. Many people set up fire pits in fields near their homes, he said, and when they’re done, they cover the area with dirt.

“People just sink right into it,” Augustin said. “Not only do they burn their feet, but you have kids who may be crawling, and so they’ll burn more than just their feet. They’ll burn their hands or knees. Sometimes, people actually fall into them.”

If you build a campfire, Augustin said, thoroughly douse the wood or coals with water to put out any burning embers. If you’re going to cover it with dirt, he said, be sure to tamp down the dirt and continue adding to it until the surface feels solid. Also, be sure to keep a hose or buckets of water handy. Sparks from campfires and illegal fireworks keep fire departments busy fighting grass fires on the Fourth of July, Augustin said, so much so that they staff up on administrative personnel because the call volume goes up.

Fireworks pose just as many hazards, Augustin and Greenhalgh said.

“I’ve seen facial and eye injuries from people pitching bottle rockets at each other, lots of burns to the hands from people trying to hold a firework that goes off in their hand,” Augustin said. “That can be from firecrackers but it also can be from things that were meant to be placed on the ground, but people held them in their hands.”

Often, Greenhalgh said, people’s judgment is impaired by alcohol, drugs or both. Some people think that because a firework is “safe and sane” that it poses no threat if held. But he and Augustin noted that any firework that shoots flames out can cause significant damage if you hold them or place them near somebody or a person’s clothing. Follow the instructions when setting off fireworks, they advised, and create a circle of safety for campfires and fireworks that extends 2 feet out from the center. No child should be allowed within that space.

This is not the time for experimentation, Greenhalgh said, because the consequences can be disastrous.

“People try to take the gunpowder out of fireworks, collect it up and make a big pile and light it, and it actually blows up in their faces,” he said. “It’s amazing some of the things people do.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

What to do if you’re burned

Make sure you get away from whatever is burning you. Stop, drop and roll if your clothing or body are on fire. If water is handy, use it to extinguish flames on your person.

If it’s a small burn, you should cool the burn with tapwater. But don’t use ice. Ice is so cold that it can cause cell damage. Cool water has been shown to decrease the progression of the burn.

If the burn covers 10 percent or more of the body — your arms and hands, for example — do not cool with water. If you do, the body could get cold, and that could cause other problems. Call 911 for emergency assistance.

After cooling the burn, wash it and treat it with Bacitracin or Neosporin ointment. If you have concerns about a burn, call Shriners Hospitals for Children-Northern California at 916-453-2000. They are open 24 hours.