CONSUMER FORUM

Fireworks safety has many elements, including awareness of who is nearby

Posted June 30, 2012, at 5:01 p.m.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July. It’s a wish we give and receive a lot these days, and it’s one we would like to stress right now.

Many consumers are celebrating not only the country’s independence, but also the fact that they can legally buy fireworks in Maine. While we don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade (or fireworks display, for that matter), we urge both caution and restraint when using those fireworks.

Caution is in order whenever explosive, high-temperature compounds are present. Restraint is called for when our enjoyment of a rocket’s red glare has a whole different — and seriously upsetting — effect on others. More on that in a moment.

First, let’s get the basic safety message on the record. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported three fireworks-related deaths in 2010, a year in which fireworks-related injuries were estimated at 8,600. Children under age 15 accounted for about 40 percent of those injuries, and more than half of all injuries were burns.

CPSC staff looked closely at the 30-day period surrounding the Independence Day holiday in 2010 and found that most injuries were related to misused or malfunctioning fireworks. Typical malfunctions involved fireworks going off earlier or later than expected, flying fireworks going off course and launching tubes that tipped over. The study cited common examples of misuse as setting fireworks improperly, lighting them too close to other fireworks and mischief.

Some common sense practices can help people avoid those injuries. There are numerous reports of deaths and maiming injuries caused by people trying to make fireworks at home; while consumers should not make such attempts, they also should be on the lookout for less-than-professional-grade fireworks that might make their way onto the market.

Never allow children to play with fireworks or light them. Have a fire extinguisher close by. And be sure other people and animals are out of the way before touching off fireworks.

That final point bears repeating, especially when vulnerable individuals are concerned. Very young or old people may be startled by the sudden loud noise of fireworks. Another group of individuals that might be sensitive to them is combat veterans.

Military personnel who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other places where conflict occurs can find it difficult, if not impossible, to leave the experience behind. Diagnoses of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are increasingly common. And sudden noises, bright flashes or other “triggers” can cause a reaction the veteran would have experienced while in combat.

Many vets return home without realizing how these triggers work. Battle scenes on television or the sound of a helicopter might be enough to cause symptoms of PTSD. If they recognize them, vets should seek treatment as soon as possible.

“We do have effective treatment for PTSD these days,” says Dr. Jerold Hambright at the Togus VA Medical Center.

Psychotherapist Dale McGee has worked with combat veterans since 1985. He says a majority of vets with combat experience don’t like to be around fireworks. McGee suggests that if fireworks will be part of a family gathering, make any veterans present aware of that.

“If they [vets] know it’s going to happen, they do pretty well,” McGee says. “It’s when they don’t know it’s going to happen that it’s worse.”

McGee seconds the call for vets who may be suffering in silence to ask for help. “Call the Vet Center [in Bangor, 207-947-3391 or 877-927-8387]. That’s what we’re there for.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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