Woman shares her story as experts urge firework safety ahead of Fourth of July

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INDIANAPOLIS — Hospitals across the state saw a large increase in fireworks-related injuries in 2020. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says the COVID-19 pandemic could have been a contributing factor.

About 15,600 people were treated in hospital emergency departments and at least 18 people died from fireworks-related injuries in 2020, according to a new report from the CPSC. The majority of the injuries took place around the Fourth of July holiday.

“Last year we did see an increase in people injured and killed with fireworks,” Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the CPSC said. “The COVID-19 pandemic was raging. A lot of cities had canceled their public fireworks displays. It may have been that consumers took their celebrations into their own hands last year and shot off fireworks in their own backyards or in their own neighborhoods.”

One of these people that took the celebration into their own hands was Kristina Anema. While she was getting ready for a Labor Day cookout, she was lighting off mortar fireworks in her yard with friends when the unexpected happened.

“A friend was holding the tube up and asked me if I would like to hold it. I didn’t even hesitate, I said sure and had my hand under the tube holding it and the mortar never left the tube,” Kristina said. “It just exploded out the bottom and basically blew my hand in half.”

Kristina shows off her damaged hand. (Photo//Kristina Anema)

Kristina immediately went into shock, not thinking about the massive injury she just sustained.

“I was in shock. The only thing I could think about was I had a family cookout planned the next day. It was our first get-together since COVID,” Kristina said. “I was so upset, I already knew I had to cancel the cookout. That’s basically the only thing I was thinking about that night.”

When paramedics arrived, she realized the severity of her injury. Her had essentially been split in half. Her writst popped out, her thumb dislocated and her fingers were barely hanging on.

“I didn’t want to see when the paramedics got there and asked to look, I told them I didn’t want to see and I wasn’t even sure I had fingers anymore,” Kristina said.

Kristina had to have twelve pins in her hand for eight weeks following the injury. (Photo//Kristina Anema)

Kristina was rushed to the  Ascension St. Vincent Level 1 trauma center where she received emergency surgery, followed by an eight-day hospital stay. She had a minimum of 15 broken bones and six dislocations in her hand. But thankfully, the doctors were able to save all five fingers.

Lewis Jacobson, the Trauma Medical Director for Ascension St. Vincent’s Level 1 trauma center said they always see a spike in cases around the Fourth of July. For them, around two thirds of fireworks-related injuries occur around the Fourth of July Weekend.

“Obviously we are very busy with a lot of injuries that are just a constant level of injuries that we see and then around the Fourth of July we always see this spike of fireworks injuries which effect mainly face and eyes and hand injuries,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson says the most common injuries they see are explosive injuries and burn injuries from sparklers.

“Although sparklers sound and look like they’re pretty safe, they do get up to 1800 degrees to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit so they’re extremely hot if somebody touches a sparkler,” Jacobson said.

Davis said the most common injury the CPSC sees is burns. The types of fireworks that cause the most injuries are firecrackers and sparklers. She says people should never give a sparkler to a child.

“They burn at 2,000 degrees, and that is as hot as a blowtorch,” Davis said. “You would never give a blowtorch to a child, so don’t give a child a sparkler.”

The CPSC fireworks injury report shows a large increase in emergency room treated fireworks-related injuries to young adults in the age range of 20-24.

The CPSC also warns against mixing drugs and alcohol with fireworks. Of the 18 deaths associated with fireworks in 2020, almost half had used alcohol or drugs prior to the incident.

The most common parts of the body that the CPSC data shows were injured due to fireworks are hands and fingers.

While Kristina has come a long way in her recovery from her own fireworks injury, she still has a ways to go.

“I can’t make a fist,” Kristina said. “They tell me I’ll never make a fist again, but I’m going to prove them wrong one day.”

Kristina shows off her catch after a family fishing trip following her surgeries. (Photo//Kristina Anema)

While she can grip with her thumb and index finger, she is still working on gaining a grip with her middle finger. Her other fingers are still not doing much. She says she has been able to resume some of the activities she loved before her injury, however.

“I love fishing, so I was able to fish again,” Kristina said. “Hopefully one day I’ll be able to bowl again.”

The CPSC offered some tips to celebrate the Fourth of July safely including:

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt some metals.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy, in case of fire or other mishaps.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move away from the fireworks device quickly.
  • Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water, and throw them away.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Move to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Never point or throw fireworks (including sparklers) at anyone.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, to prevent a trash fire, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding the device.
  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area, and only purchase and set off fireworks that are labeled for consumer (not professional) use.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

For more fireworks safety tips, visit www.cpsc.gov.

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