It's the 4th of July. All across the United States, families and friends are gathering to celebrate.
Traditional celebrations include setting off or attending fireworks shows, barbecues and cookouts and splashing in a variety of bodies of water.
But the 4th is also a perfect storm of accidental injuries meets the least experienced doctors in the ER. July is when the new residents are taking shifts in the ER - and they may not be as experienced piecing together a hand damaged by fireworks as their more seasoned peers.
So the best thing to do is to avoid the need for the hospital altogether. Here are some tips on how to stay safe and avoid the ER - so you can keep partying it up this Independence Day.
Think Water Safety
One overlooked safety consideration during Independence Day (and all summer) is safety in the water. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children under 10, and it can happen silently and in the blink of an eye.
Here are some safety tips that will help you and your family stay safe around the water:
- Use the buddy system. Always make sure no one swims alone - and a child under 15 should always be accompanied by an adult.
- Make use of door alarms. In a rental, you can buy stick-on door alarms (and take them with you when you go) that will alert if the door to a backdoor is opened, letting you know if a child is headed towards a pool, lake or other body of water.
- Bright bathing suits. Make sure children or people who are not strong swimmers wear neon colors like yellow, green or orange which are easier to spot underwater.
- Don't rely on non-life-saving flotation devices. Although arm floaties and other flotation devices can help everyone a little with their confidence in the water, they should never be a substitute for an adult who's a strong swimmer nearby. In addition, certified life vests can be used on children and people who are not strong swimmers. But they are a complement to supervision, not a substitute.
- Constant supervision. Don't let conversations, electronic devices or alcohol steal your focus - keep an eye on people in the pool if you're in charge of watching. Make sure at least one person is in charge of watching at all time - and verbally trade off shifts so everyone is aware of who is watching and whose responsibility it is.
- Look for beaches/lakes/rivers with certified lifeguards.
- Know what drowning looks like. It's usually not loud splashing and gurgling or flailing, it's usually still and silent. This is why bright swimsuits are often the difference between life and death; if a weak swimmer or someone who is incapacitated slips beneath the surface, you might only be able to find them by the blob of color their suit makes.
- Don't swim when intoxicated. While a beer and a day at the pool is an iconic American tradition, keep your consumption to a reasonable level. Prescription medications should also be considered before swimming.
- Always lock pool fence gates and doors.
- Make sure everyone in your group is comfortable performing CPR and knows what to do in case of an emergency.
- Don't dive in head-first. Whether in a pool or natural body of water, diving head-first can cause catastrophic head or neck injuries and cause drowning even if all you do is give yourself a good knock on the head.
- If you find yourself in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are able to break free and swim back. Trying to swim across it may result in drowning.
- And last but certainly not least - consider swim lessons. You're never too old or too young to take a swim class. Being confident in the water and knowing your limits can be the life-saving difference.
All water safety rules should be reviewed by all party members verbally before jumping in, or before staying in an accommodation that has access to water.
Fireworks Safety Tips
Of course, water isn't the only dangerous experience people flirt with on the 4th. Mix intoxicated people, "watch this" attitude and fireworks - and you're looking at a million things that can go wrong.
Here are some safety tips for navigating fireworks safety:
- Never give fireworks to small children. This seems like a no-brainer, but there's one incendiary object people love to pass to children: sparklers. Make sure children are old enough to know not to touch or hit other people with sparklers, which burn surprisingly hot and can cause serious burns if they come in contact with the skin.
- Never aim fireworks towards people, pets, vehicles or buildings. Be mindful of the trajectory of the device and where it's likely to explode once set off.
- Light one firework at a time and make sure all people are aware of when and where they're being lit.
- If you think a firework is a dud, don't try to relight it. Douse it with water from a distance.
- Keep water handy at all times, and a sand bucket where plausible.
- Store fireworks responsibly, in a cold dry place away from children and pets.
- Make plans for pets. The 5th is known as "Day of the Lost Dogs" among animal rescues because dogs are often frightened by fireworks and go missing.
- Be mindful of your neighbors; talk with them about your plans to light fireworks and be cognizant of elderly people, veterans or people with small children who may be distressed by fireworks they aren't prepared for.
- Follow all pertinent laws in your state for firework usage. If your state has enacted a fireworks ban because of wildfire risk, follow it - you don't want to be responsible for setting people's homes and livelihoods on fire for a few minutes of fun.
- Most importantly, the safest way to enjoy fireworks is at a professional display from 500 feet away. While fireworks are a fun pastime for holidays like the 4th and New Year's, they're best handled by the professionals.
Cook with Care
And like any holiday in the United States, the 4th is nothing without a good barbecue or cookout. This means people are firing up the grills, fire pits and fryers.
Here are some tips for making a feast without setting the house on fire:
- Maintain your cooking and safety equipment properly. Make sure propane lines are not dried and cracked and fittings are good.
- Keep a fire extinguisher close at hand, as well as water and sand for an emergency.
- As always, use cautiously around intoxicated people.
- Don't attempt to use a fryer in the house - keep it in the back yard, at least a distance of 10 feet from the house.
- Never grill indoors.
- Never add fluid to the grill once it has been lit.
- Don't let children play around adults who are cooking, and make sure everyone knows where the cooking will be occurring.
- Observe all typical fire safety habits.
And perhaps the most useful piece of advice for all activities on Independence Day - have a burn kit nearby for those inevitable little burns you won't want to dash off to the hospital for.
For more information on safety during the 4th, visit the Red Cross.