The sound of fireworks still makes Keon Johnson, 17, uneasy.
It’s been four years since the Shelbyville, Tennessee, teen nearly lost his left hand after an artillery firework exploded while he was lighting it.
While fireworks are synonymous with annual July 4 celebrations, it’s an activity the Johnson family says is best left to the experts.
“I grew up doing fireworks and my children did too, with adult supervision,” said Conswella Johnson, Keon’s mother. “But after the incident with Keon, my perspective on a lot of things changed.
“We do not do fireworks at home. We will watch them from our local park, which is a couple miles away from the house,” she said. “We don’t go to the fireworks displays because Keon is still cautious. He just doesn’t want to be around them at all.”
Thousands of people like Keon are injured each year using consumer fireworks. In 2018, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported and estimated 9,100 fireworks-related emergency department-treated injuries and at least five fireworks-related deaths in the United States.
“There are so many people who use these fireworks inappropriately,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s so important to use caution and read the instructions. I wish children were not allowed to use them at all.
“And sparklers are an open flame. It’s all about safety. It’s just so easy for someone to get hurt.”
Sparklers, which are responsible for most injuries to children 5 years old and younger, burn at approximately 2,000 degrees — hot enough to cause third-degree burns and melt glass, aluminum and some metals.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center physicians who treat burns, eye injuries and hearing loss due to improper fireworks usage, urge caution this Fourth of July.
“Fireworks are explosives and need to be treated as such,” said Corey Slovis, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “The burns and injuries that result from improper use of fireworks are often devastating and life altering.”
Luckily for Keon, who received treatment at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, he recovered from his injuries, which required emergency surgery to avoid amputation. A junior at Webb School in Bell Buckle, Keon is one of the top college basketball recruits in the country.
His mother said the outcome could have been very different and she is now quick to educate those using fireworks improperly.
“I will say something if I see them being used inappropriately,” she said. “I try to correct them and tell them about Keon’s accident.”
Fireworks safety tips
While it is best to leave fireworks to the professionals, if you plan to have fireworks at your celebration, follow these precautions and set some rules in advance:
- Always read and follow all warnings and label instructions.
- Never allow children to play with or light fireworks — not even sparklers.
- Adults should supervise children at all times
- Wear safety goggles when lighting fireworks and never wear loose clothing.
- Use fireworks outdoors only.
- Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
- Keep a working garden hose, bucket of water and fire extinguisher nearby
- Light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, and keep away from dry leaves and other flammable materials.
- Light only one firework at a time.
- Never throw or point fireworks at other people or animals.
- Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
- Never relight a dud firework. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
- Dispose of fireworks by soaking them in water and then putting them in the trash can.