Fourth of July revelers were given a graphic warning Thursday of the dangers of fireworks when Erie County sheriff’s officials detonated a yellow glove packed with gel to mimic a human hand.
When the smoke cleared in a meadow at Chestnut Ridge Park, the glove was torn to shreds from four oversized firecrackers and the wooden plank upon which it had been placed was burned and gouged.
The medical director of trauma at Women & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo offered a clinical assessment of what would have happened to a person.
“You can see the magnitude of the heat from where the glove has melted. If that were a human hand, there’d be a loss of skin, soft tissue and bone,” said Dr. Kathryn D. Bass, who is also a pediatric surgeon. “Most of the patients we see injured by fireworks come in with burns. It’s like shrapnel hitting you in the hands, chest, face or eyes.”
Something as seemingly benign as a sparkler, Bass said, can cause serious injuries, especially to young children.
“Sparklers can get up to 1,000 degrees and children don’t comprehend how hot that is and can be burned,” the surgeon said.
There are no precise figures for how many children enter the emergency room at Women & Children’s for injuries from fireworks each year, but Bass said there are as many as 100 cases of burns yearly and a portion of them are attributable to fireworks.
“When I was first interested in medicine, I volunteered at a hospital and my first encounter was a little boy who’d come to the hospital because his hand had been blown up with a firecracker,” Bass recalled. The incident happened in the 1970s but that image has stuck with her.
Rather than take risks that can have devastating consequences, she urged Buffalo Niagara residents to instead attend community-sponsored fireworks displays put on by pyrotechnic experts.
Bomb Squad Deputy Dan Walczak, who electronically ignited the firecrackers in the glove with a remote control device, said people fail to realize just how dangerous fireworks are.
“They come over here on boats from China, are transported on trucks and are probably two years old by the time they are purchased,” Walczak said. “The amateur then uses his body as a shield to handle a low-explosive device, touching it and lighting it with his hands.”
Fireworks, he said, “are made on the cheap and sold for a profit” that does not necessarily take into account the safety of the consumer.
There’s also the illegal aspect of possessing and setting off fireworks in New York State, said Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman.
“We made a dozen arrests for fireworks last year and assisted our partners in towns and villages with fireworks seizures,” he said.
Depending on the amount of fireworks a person possesses, charges can range from violations to misdemeanors and perhaps even more serious counts, if others are harmed or property is damaged, Walczak said.
Last year, an estimated 2,000 pounds of illegal fireworks were seized in Erie County and disposed of by the bomb squad, according to Walczak. But he said the seizures represented only a tiny fraction of what is set off by citizens.
Wipperman also issued a warning that deputies will be out in force conducting driving while intoxicated patrols and checkpoints throughout the holiday weekend not only on roadways but in area waterways to discourage boating while intoxicated as well.