Fiery sparks, whistles and crackles will be everywhere this weekend.
Dr. John Janikas doesn’t want to see or hear any of it. As director of emergency medicine at Albany Memorial Hospital and Troy’s Samaritan Hospital, Janikas is worried people could show up with injuries suffered during home fireworks shows. For many, the big holiday weekend begins today.
Janikas could not offer hard statistics from the 2015 Fourth of July weekend in his emergency rooms.
“When you’re looking back and trying to figure out numbers, you track by diagnosis codes, and no one puts in a diagnosis of ‘fireworks,’” he said.
“It ends up being, they come in with contusions, a burn, something like that,” Janikas added. “I can’t remember anecdotally working my shift if there were any more injuries than any other year… you’re not going to see hundreds of people come in with fireworks injuries, but people are getting injured and there are fires being started, so there’s an inherent danger there.”
While tents that have appeared all over the Capital Region are advertising fireworks — and people are describing their purchases as fireworks — the 2014 amendment to the state penal law allows only for the sale of “sparking devices.”
Cherry bombs, large firecrackers, sky rockets and other explosives remain illegal, but Janikas and others in the medical set are wary about the coming weekend. They suspect people are still going to nearby states such as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire to buy more potent fireworks for holiday shows. And now, for the second year, they’ll have locally-purchased “sparking devices” in their arsenals.
The Daily Gazette purchased a $10, TNT-brand “Into the Night,” which cautions the device emits showers of sparks. A smaller box on the 8 1/2-inch tall fountain reads “consumer fireworks.”
Counties must vote to permit sales in their areas. With the addition of Albany and Schoharie Counties this year, sparking devices are now available in all Capital Region area towns and cities.
One of the dangers Janikas worries about became real in Amsterdam Monday night. Amsterdam police said a 10-year-old playing with fireworks started a fire that destroyed three buildings and damaged a fourth. Six people lost their homes.
For doctors, the case of Jason Pierre-Paul remains a strong statement against fireworks. The New York Giants’ defensive end lost a finger on his right hand when he lit a fireworks piece during the 2015 Fourth of July weekend. The explosion mangled another finger; doctors considered amputating his hand.
On Thursday, Pierre-Paul showed off his damaged hand in a public service announcement that debuted on “Good Morning America.”
“So Fourth of July, I lit up a firework, thought I could throw it away real quick and in a split second blew off my whole hand just right there,” Pierre-Paul said in the video. “On the way to the hospital, all I could do is think about was my son and was I going to make it? Now I’m just truly, truly blessed to be alive. Now when I look at fireworks I think about the safety.”
Janikas doesn’t like how holiday weekend scenarios set up. Enthusiasts will set up their back yard shows after an afternoon or early evening that could include alcohol. Small children may be in the group, with fireworks and “sparking devices” ignited close to their positions.
Kids may be handling sparklers, and Janikas hates the prospect.
“Look at it like this,” he said. “If I said I’m going to take a piece of newspaper and I’m going to light it up and put it your child’s hand, you’d look at me like I was a fool. You’d say you could cause burns, could cause a fire. But we think nothing of taking a sparkler, lighting it up and letting the thing spark and light to 2,000 degrees and put it in a child’s hand or have it around their house.”
Janikas said the most common fireworks injuries are burns to the hands and face. “The sparklers are mostly going to cause burn injuries,” he said. “Anything projectile or explosive like firecrackers or bottle rockets, now you start getting into things like contusions, lacerations, penetrating injuries, injuries to the eyes,” Janikas added.
There were no major problems with sparkling or explosive fireworks over the 2015 Fourth of July weekend at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville.
“I recall we had one case last year that came in that was an injury from fireworks,” said Jen Elmendorf, manager of the hospital’s emergency care center. “It was a blast injury to the hands.”
Like Janikas, Elmendorf said there is a concern at Littauer.
“It’s something we always think about and then we kind of think about it more about this time of year, seeing all the tents on every street corner reminds you about it,” she said.
She added that people treated for fireworks-related injuries always regret their decisions after their injuries.
At Ellis Hospital, spokeswoman JoAnn Nelson said emergency room personnel reported no fireworks problems in 2015. “They haven’t noticed any notable increase at all,” Nelson said.
Reports from St. Mary’s in Amsterdam and Saratoga Hospital were similar. “I spoke with the head of our emergency department and we really haven’t seen any fireworks injuries in the last couple years,” said Saratoga spokesman Peter Hopper.
Janikas is concerned that the easy availability of legal sparkling devices could hook people on fireworks. Maybe next year, they’ll go out of state for to buy bigger bangs for their home shows.
“I’m not naive,” Janikas said. “People are going to have these things. If you’re going to use them, at least be smart about them to try to prevent injuries, prevent fires. Avoid them if you can, but if you’re going to use them, do as much as you can to prevent injury, prevent a visit to see me in the E.R. over the holiday weekend.”
Janikas added he’ll have his fingers crossed. Like always.
“I’m an E.R. doctor,” he said. “I keep my fingers crossed 365 days a year. If it’s not Lyme Disease or fireworks, it’s snowblower injuries and heart attacks from people shoveling. I basically live my life with my fingers crossed.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.