Fireworks safety message comes with added urgency this year

Safety advocates warn of the already increasing dangers of do-it-yourself fireworks

  • A T-shirt is aflame less than 20 seconds after being touched by a sparkler during a fireworks demonstration Tuesday at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Sparklers are illegal in some 20 towns and the city of Chicago.

    A T-shirt is aflame less than 20 seconds after being touched by a sparkler during a fireworks demonstration Tuesday at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Sparklers are illegal in some 20 towns and the city of Chicago. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Mike Figolah, a past president of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance and a former Mount Prospect fire chief, coordinates the annual fireworks safety demonstration at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. He suggested that a good alternative to sparklers is glow sticks.

    Mike Figolah, a past president of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance and a former Mount Prospect fire chief, coordinates the annual fireworks safety demonstration at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. He suggested that a good alternative to sparklers is glow sticks. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Hoffman Estates Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas Mackie, from left, and Chief Patrick Fortunato watch as a T-shirt is quickly consumed by flames during a fireworks safety demonstration Tuesday at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

    Hoffman Estates Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas Mackie, from left, and Chief Patrick Fortunato watch as a T-shirt is quickly consumed by flames during a fireworks safety demonstration Tuesday at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Flames consume a T-shirt in less than 20 seconds after the fabric was ignited by a sparkler Tuesday during a fireworks safety demonstration at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

    Flames consume a T-shirt in less than 20 seconds after the fabric was ignited by a sparkler Tuesday during a fireworks safety demonstration at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 

By Christopher Placek

Updated 7/1/2020 10:08 AM

With most professional fireworks shows extinguished because of the coronavirus, and complaints over illegal home displays already skyrocketing, what has become an annual anti-fireworks message from suburban fire prevention advocates took on added urgency this week.

Doctors and first responders are bracing for increased 911 calls and trips to emergency rooms this Fourth of July weekend in anticipation of fireworks-related injuries and other mishaps resulting from holiday revelry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We all hate working the Fourth of July because unlike most of the injuries that we see, (fireworks injuries) are completely preventable," said Rema Johnson, the assistant medical director at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

The hospital on Tuesday hosted an annual news conference of safety experts organized by the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, a Mount Prospect-based organization that runs summer camps for burn survivors and lobbies against efforts to legalize fireworks in Illinois.

Part of the yearly display in front of reporters and TV cameras is a live fire demonstration showing how, in less than a minute, a quick touch from a sparkler can consume in flames a T-shirt draped over a test dummy.

The advocates' message this year took on added meaning amid reports of hundreds of fireworks complaints from suburban residents and a 700% increase in complaints in Chicago alone, according to city officials.

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But the recurring message -- "leave it to the professionals" -- may have been more challenging to present, as most large community displays are canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about large crowds gathering.

"Everything is different this year because of COVID, so we'd like to get the messaging out (to) celebrate differently," said Margaret Vaughn, the safety alliance's government affairs director.

She noted some shows, like in Schaumburg, Bolingbrook, McHenry, Naperville, Oswego, Spring Grove and Yorkville, are still on. But otherwise, Vaughn recommends taking part in a drive-through parade to celebrate the holiday or visiting a restaurant that's now open under the state's Phase 4 reopening plan.

Mike Figolah, past president of the advocacy group and a retired Mount Prospect fire chief, recommended a sparklers alternative for kids: glow sticks.

"We understand that this year is a challenge because shows are limited, but they are out there, and they'll be back next year," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To illustrate their point on the dangers of fireworks, the group highlighted new statistics from a Consumer Product Safety Commission report released last week that found there were 10,000 fireworks-related injuries treated in emergency rooms nationwide last year, and 12 deaths.

One of those deaths occurred July 22 on Chicago's South Side, when a 53-year-old man was struck by a firework that did not initially detonate after first lighting the device. When he went to inspect the canister where the firework was placed, it finally launched and struck him in the head, according to the report.

Recent cases causing serious injury occurred during New Year's celebrations last winter: a 5-year-old Chicago boy and an Oak Lawn man in his 20s who both lost their hands while handling fireworks.

The suburbs have seen their share of tragedies:

• In 1986, a 2-year-old Glenview boy was killed in Morton Grove after his parents' car containing fireworks burst into flames in a grocery story parking lot.

• That same year, a 17-year-old boy killed in Batavia when fireworks exploded as he held them.

• A Johnsburg man was killed while lighting a professional-grade firework in 2011.

• A Cary man was blinded in one eye when struck by a neighbor's July 4 fireworks in 1998.

"We can just give you a snippet of a statistic or a little story, but the lives and how it affects the entire family ... it's just a terrible type of injury," Figolah said.

Safety: Advocates suggest glow sticks instead of sparklers, and parades

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