Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Catastrophic injuries on the rise as more fireworks find their way into public’s hands


Ed. On several occasions—usually during each Fourth of July--we are reminded that stupid people have a propensity for doing stupid things. We are then told that government is simply NOT doing a proper job looking out for the mentally challenged…you know, the “Here, hold mah beer” set.

Of course, the only way to correct this terrible shortcoming is to fine/imprison anyone with the audacity to fracture one of Big Brother’s “We must protect you from yourself” laws.

The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune on July 2nd

By Elyssa Cherney Chicago Tribune

For Marcus Pryor, the July 4 holiday began with seemingly innocent fun three years ago when he met up with a friend, went to a park near his South Side home and started lighting some fireworks.

But it wouldn’t take long for things to go horribly wrong.
"Nobody told me not to hold a Cherry Bomb till it goes off!"

As Pryor was igniting the shells and hurling them into the air, a small, circular firework exploded in his hand.

“It had blinded me, and I was deaf for a minute. My ears were ringing, I was seeing orange,” Pryor said in a recent interview. “When I finally opened my eyes, I saw my fingers were all broken up and hanging, and I rushed to the ER.”

Pryor, who is 29, lost most of two fingers. His thumb and other two fingers were salvaged only because a surgeon buried them in his abdomen, where they could recover in nutrient-rich tissue, before reattaching them to his hand.

Pryor’s accident was part of what officials say is a growing danger on the Independence Day holiday as potent fireworks — like Roman candles, various grades of firecrackers and more powerful mortars obtained on the black market — become more available. The chance of catastrophic injury only increases when people misuse the explosives.

Pryor, after all, was one of the lucky ones. David Griffin, 42, died last year when he checked on a fireworks tube that had not ignited. It was a large mortar in a PVC tube, 24 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. The mortar went off in his face while he was with his children in an alley on the Southwest Side.

Statewide, at least 2,000 people have been injured by fireworks over the last decade, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That includes a record number of 349 people hurt by fireworks in 2017, which followed the 307 hurt in 2016. Both totals were way up from an average of about 280 people in the five years prior, though officials note that the data collection can be haphazard.

At the same time, catastrophic injuries have increased as well. Last year, hospitals in Illinois treated 16 dismemberment or amputation injuries in the peak summertime months, according to the state fire marshal’s office. That was one more case than in 2016 and well above the six cases in 2015.

If there is a profile of those most likely to be hurt by fireworks, it’s men older than 22, according to the fire marshal data. Most people suffered injuries affecting hands, eyes and faces as well as second-degree burns.

The injuries are occurring even though fireworks have been illegal in Illinois for decades.

Illinois is increasingly the exception as neighboring states, seeking tax revenue, have legalized them. Last year, Iowa allowed fireworks sales, joining Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. Pennsylvania, one of the most recent states to flip, projected it would earn $9.3 million in 2018 and 2019 by imposing a 12 percent sales tax on fireworks.

Illinois is one of only four states that continue to ban most consumer fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

But lots of people, including Dr. Mark Grevious, know fireworks can be easily found close to home.

He’s a plastic surgeon who specializes in hand reconstruction and has treated his fair share of firework patients in Chicago hospitals, including Pryor. He had the idea of embedding Pryor’s remaining fingers in his abdomen instead of amputating Pryor’s entire left hand.


“People just go across the (state) border, and even when you are driving in South Chicago, the billboards are saying, ‘Hey, fireworks here,’” Grevious said.

For people who flout the rules, Grevious stressed they should never light fireworks in their hands or use them after drinking alcohol.

Pryor still doesn’t know exactly where his friend got the fireworks, but he thinks they were purchased from a tent in Indiana — not a bad guess since stores near the border see a wave of Illinois customers in the summer.

While the state collects information about the number of firework injuries, it is not clear where the illicit devices are coming from. The fire marshal’s office does not track whether the fireworks causing harm were bought in other states, purchased on local black markets or acquired on the internet.

That information could help officials determine which products are being misused and whether defective fireworks are being sold, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Whatever the source, hospitals are expecting the usual uptick in visits over the holiday. At Stroger Hospital, the burn unit’s director, Dr. Stathis Poulakidas, expects up to 50 firework patients to start trickling in this weekend as holiday festivities ramp up.

“Most of them are during the igniting process,” Poulakidas said. “Easily half of those will be inpatient admissions requiring surgery.”

Federal law puts strict limits on the power of consumer fireworks, saying they must contain less than 50 milligrams of flash powder for firecrackers and 130 milligrams for aerial devices. Professional fireworks, like those seen at Navy Pier on July 4, are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Some municipalities also allow residents to obtain a state license to put on community shows.

The strongest explosives — M80s, cherry bombs and silver salutes — have been federally banned since 1966, Heckman said.

Still, people make the more powerful mortars in their homes by ordering the material, putting them together with a glue gun and selling them in bootleg markets, Heckman said.

As their power increases, so do the consequences of improper use.

"If you held a (legal) firecracker in your hand and lit it, it’s not going to blow your hand off," Heckman said.

It is these more powerful professional fireworks, particularly mortar shells meant to be launched from tubes, that may be behind the increase in catastrophic injuries, said Teagan Shull, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal. Many people, like Pryor, try to throw them instead — just one way that fireworks are misused.

“There has also been increased incidence of ‘overloading,’ which means when inspected by ATF, the shells were found to have more than the allowed pyrotechnic materials in consumer fireworks aerial shells,” Shull said in an emailed statement.

Nationwide, eight fireworks-related deaths were reported in 2017, with victims ranging in age from 4 to 57, according a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Across the country last year, the sparkler was the leading cause of injuries, accounting for 14 percent of the estimated injuries, in the month before and after Independence Day, the safety commission said. The devices can burn at 1,200 degrees.

As for Pryor, tending to his hand has become a regular part of his life. He recently had surgery to complete more skin grafting and treat scar tissue, and walked into Stroger Hospital on a recent day for a followup appointment. He’s able to do some normal tasks, like texting from a cellphone.

And he has some words of caution for people looking to ring in the holiday weekend with fireworks.

“Follow the instructions,” he said. “Don’t buy things off the street. … Gotta be careful.”

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