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Friday, July 12, 2024

County Holds Fireworks Demonstration to Warn of Potential Dangers Around Holiday

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Photo credit: Matt Meduri

While the Fourth of July is generally regarded as one of the most exciting holidays in terms of celebration, it doesn’t come with that distinction without regular dangers and mishaps.

Regular PSAs consist of safe handling of pyrotechnics and explosives, as well as obtainment, storage, and usage of such commodities.

Although firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, spinners, and aerial devices are illegal in New York – with sparklers illegal in Suffolk County – usage still persists across Long Island every year. Elected officials and members of various Suffolk County departments convened at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank on Monday afternoon to convey the dangers of these products if handled incorrectly.

“Everyone who is a true American wants to celebrate [the Fourth of July], but we’re here to say celebrate safely and don’t employ illegal fireworks,” said County Executive Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), standing next to a table full of illegal fireworks confiscated by the Suffolk County Police Department.

28% of the fires that occur in this country happen because of Independence Day fireworks, with over 19,000 fires tied to the holiday. Children between fifteen and nineteen have the highest rate of injury, with 35% receiving injuries to their fingers and hands, 22% their head, ears, face, and neck, 19% eyes, 11% other parts of the body, 8% legs, 5% arms.

“Don’t allow someone you care about to shoot off fireworks. Don’t spend money on something that is illegal for a reason,” said Romaine. “If you want to do something for Independence Day, take the money you would spend on fireworks and donate it to a food kitchen. If we want to show how proud we are as Americans, let’s make sure all Americans have enough to eat.”

Romaine said to leave fireworks displays to the “professionals,” saying that there are numerous professional shows being put on by the Towns and Villages. Romaine added that they don’t pose a danger to the general public.

“This Fourth of July, we are going to have extra patrols out this week in Suffolk County. We are concerned about DWIs,” said Romaine. “Drink responsibly. If you have more than two drinks, don’t drive.”

Romaine invoked the recent death of four people, including NYPD officer Emilia Rennhack, caused by an alleged drunk driver who drove his car into a Deer Park nail salon last Friday. The crash also took the owner of the salon, leaving behind two young children, and left the owner’s wife with critical back and hip injuries, recovery from which is expected to take one to two years.

Romaine also warned against drinking while boating, saying “do the right thing.”

“We have already seen firework-related injuries this week leading up to the holiday,” said Deputy Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services (FRES) Commissioner Rudy Sunderman. “We urge residents to leave firework displays up to the professionals. 74% of firework-related injuries occur in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July.”

Sunderman said that while sparklers seem “relatively innocent,” yet they burn between 1200 and 2000 degrees. To give perspective, Sunderman said that a match burns at 800 degrees.

“You wouldn’t give a child a match. Why would you give them a sparkler?” said Sunderman.

“In 2023, we had ten emergency room consults, one burn center admittance, fifteen referrals to the burn center from other hospitals. On average, Suffolk County sees one [firework-related] fatality every five years,” said Sunderman.

Suffolk County Legislator Dominick Thorne (R-Patchogue), joined by Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), said that the best emergency that can be hoped for is one that never has to be called in.

“Public safety is paramount in this county and it’s something we take very seriously. Keep in mind, the life you save might be your own or someone you love,” said Thorne, Chair of the Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness Committee.

“Celebrate our country, but do it responsibly,” concluded Thorne.

A demonstration was then held to show what the result of improper storage of fireworks in a car could be. A totalled Jeep Grand Cherokee was stocked with many of the explosives on display at the press conference and detonated on site. A large explosion started an approximately twenty-minute long fire, while fireworks and explosives continued to ignite throughout the duration of the blaze.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, Medical Director of the Burn Unit at Stony Brook Hospital, described what he normally sees every year around the Fourth of July.

“Every year, there’s a loss of a limb, whether it be a hand, a foot, or something else like that. There’s always some kind of loss that we see,” Sandoval told The Messenger. Sandoval urged residents to understand that Stony Brook’s Burn Unit is specifically equipped to handle these types of injuries, and that delaying treatment or seeking other medical attention might prolong injuries or reduce the chances of saving a limb.

“What happens sometimes is patients go to these outside hospitals and they’re given information and then they wind up coming to Stony Brook eventually. In the clinics, a lot of the delayed injuries are people trying to manage things by themselves by going to other hospitals or walk-in clinics,” said Sandoval, adding that many injuries he sees are children with third-degree burns from sparklers.

“In the hospital itself, we see people making their own fireworks, making their own mortars, checking the mortars by putting their faces over it, and it could be a limb or their life that goes with it,” said Sandoval. “I get that everybody wants to have fun, I don’t want to be a killjoy, but this is the reality of it.”

Sandoval said that Stony Brook also has a great reattachment service for limbs and digits that might be lost due to firework-related injuries, but he cautioned that full reattachment might not be guaranteed based on the situation.

“Sometimes you get lucky and get one or two fingers back, but it depends on what’s left over,” said Sandoval. “We’ve had some success with these [types of reattachments] in the past, but it’s few and far between.”

Sandoval mentioned a patient last weekend who came to the burn unit with a severed hand, but that there wasn’t much for the burn unit to do as there was “not much left” to treat.

Sandoval also said that many firework-related injuries rarely occur in a “sober situation,” saying that alcohol consumption certainly lowers judgment and risk assessment when dealing with these types of products, especially homemade pyrotechnics.

“We have enough staff [at Stony Brook] and we never really exceed our capabilities, but we do have coordinations with other burn centers, such as Nassau County, Cornell, Westchester, Staten Island, and even in Bridgeport, Connecticut,” said Sandoval. “Worse comes to worst, we can helicopter a patient up and send them where they need to go. Thankfully, we have had to utilize that in the last twenty years.”

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), and a representative for Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) were also present, along with numerous emergency service and fire department personnel. The Messenger urges all to stay safe in the days after the Fourth of July, as celebrations and fireworks displays tend to continue after the holiday proper.

Matt Meduri
Matt Meduri
Matt Meduri has served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Messenger Papers since August 2023. He is the author of the America the Beautiful, Civics 101, and This Week Today columns. Matt graduated from St. Joseph's University, Patchogue, in 2022, with a degree in Human Resources and worked for his family's IT business for three years. He's also a musician and composer with his sights set on the film industry. Matt has traveled all around the U.S. and enjoys cooking, photography, and a good cup of coffee.