Southland surgeon stresses fireworks safety: ‘We’re not talking a little burn’
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org July 3, 2012 5:54AM
A demonstration by the Consumer Product Safety Commission involving setting off fireworks inside a watermelon shows the damage fireworks are capable of. | File photo
By the numbers
168 injuries (2 fatalites)
39 people with first-degree burns
60 with second-degree burns
19 with serious lacerations
28 with abrasions
89 injuries to people ages 6 to 21
Source: Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office
10,000 injuries a year
Nearly 2,000 eye-related, involving children under age 15
One-third of eye injuries result in permanent eye damage
One-fourth result in permanent
vision loss or blindness
Thirty percent of injuries are to hands and fingers
16 percent are to the head and face
National Council of Fireworks Safety
For those who insist
on using fireworks:
Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
Use fireworks outdoors only.
Always have a fire extinguisher and/or water handy.
Use fireworks as intended.
Never re-light a firework.
Do not use homemade or illegal fireworks.
Wear safety glasses.
Follow all warning labels.
Do not allow children to handle or light fireworks.
Light only one at a time.
Never aim fireworks at another person.
MidAmerica Hand to Shoulder Clinic
Updated: August 4, 2012 6:08AM
A Palos Hills surgeon would prefer to not be working on the Fourth of July.
But thanks to the dangers of fireworks, Dr. Gary Kronen doesn’t always get his way. As a result, he has seen his share of serious injuries from the mishandling of firecrackers, rockets and other incendiary devices that people blow off to celebrate America’s birthday.
“Some Fourth of Julys are very busy. Others are not. When we’re on call, we don’t look forward to it because the anticipation is that at some point you’ll start getting called, and oftentimes it’s late at night,” Kronen said.
A hand surgeon, Kronen specializes in putting back together what’s left after an explosive tears through someone’s hand. Three weeks ago, he was able to repair the left hand of a North Carolina man attending a wedding in Crown Point, Ind.
“After the wedding was over, they went to some family party. They had been drinking and were shooting off mortars. He picked up the launcher, it fell out and the mortar blew up his hand,” Kronen said from his office at the MidAmerica Hand to Shoulder Clinic, 10330 S. Roberts Road. “It was the only fireworks injury from a substantial blast that I’ve been able to do a full repair. Usually, the injuries are such that you wind up amputating substantial portions of what’s injured.
“We’re not talking a little burn here.”
Kronen had to “reconstruct everything” and repair blood vessels to the finger, he said. The hand suffered nerve and arterial injuries.
The gruesome pre-surgery photos show the man’s little finger, and his palm below the finger, nearly torn off.
After a two-hour surgery, the man’s hand is back together and he is expected, after a few more surgeries, to regain use, Kronen said.
The moral of the story?
“These are things that should be left to the professionals,” he said.
That’s why he’s making his annual plea to people to celebrate Independence Day safely — a sentiment shared by the state and local officials.
In a prepared statement, Illinois State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis said fireworks, which are illegal in Illinois, “should never be used as toys or entertainment devices.”
Tinley Park Fire Chief Ken Dunn urges residents to attend the July 4 fireworks display put on by the Tinley Park Park District, rather than staging their own backyard shows.
“The danger we have is people who aren’t professionals believe they are, and suddenly they need my professionals to take care of their problems,” Dunn said.
The dry weather has turned lawns into potential tinderboxes that could be set ablaze with an errant firecracker, bottle rocket, Roman candle or other device, he said. Nearby garages and houses also can go up in flames, he said.
“There are so many dangers out there,” Dunn said. “We once had a guy who shot a bottle rocket that went through a screen and started a bedroom on fire. Those things do happen.”
Most fireworks injuries happen to children, “and the majority of those injuries are burns as opposed to a blast-type injury,” Kronen said.
There also are a lot of eye injuries from projectiles, he said.
Kronen is surprised he needs to issue an annual reminder about the dangers of fireworks.
“People tend to not heed warnings, whether it’s (about) firecrackers or anything else in life,” he said. “(Their thinking is) ‘It’s fun. It’s easier than going to a community park that has set up a professional demonstration.’ I wish people would stick to those. They’re not only better than home displays but are designed to be safe.”
Some of those who are injured are not as fortunate as the North Carolina man whose hand was saved. In 2005, Kronen treated a man who tried to make his own fireworks. That man lost a finger.
Dunn still recalls an incident from his youth in Tinley Park. He knew a boy who found an unexploded mortar after the village’s annual Fourth of July display. The boy tried to detonate the mortar himself.
“He took it to the woods,” Dunn said, “and it blew his arm off.”