Wyoming Paramedics Advise Not Shooting Fireworks From Your Orifices Or At People

To stay injury-free this Fourth of July, paramedics in Wyoming advise not to shoot fireworks from any of your orifices or at people. Cutting down on alcohol is a good strategy too, they say.

Andrew Rossi

July 04, 20246 min read

Man shooting fireworks from his mouth.
Man shooting fireworks from his mouth. (Courtesy Photo)

Lighting off your own fireworks on the Fourth of July is all fun and games until someone loses a finger or two, say Wyoming paramedics who spend Independence Day treating patriotic-fueled burns and worse.

It's easy to get into the explosive spirit of the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, many Wyomingites get too carried away, and can lose a piece of themselves in the process.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that about 10,000 people in the United States are seriously hurt by fireworks every year. There's always an increase in fireworks-related injuries around the Fourth of July.

While the thought of losing a finger or two to an exploding firework is grotesque, and the threat of serious injury is real, that might not be the best example of a typical fireworks-related injury. In Wyoming, people treated by paramedics suffer a wide range of explosive backlash.

Eyes And Burns

Eric Evenson has worked as a paramedic throughout Wyoming for several years.

While he's seen at least one finger lost to an exploding firework, he told Cowboy State Daily that most of the calls he's responded to over the Fourth of July holiday are for small injuries from small fireworks.

"I've only seen one amputation," he said. "A lot of the time, what we have to deal with is eye injuries and burns."

The CPSC found that more than 57% of serious fireworks injuries in 2019 were burns. The most injured parts of the body were hands and fingers at 30%, followed by heads and ears at 16%, and eyes at 15%.

Those statistics accurately reflect Evenson's experience as a Wyoming paramedic, and the culprits aren't what most people would expect.

"It's almost always the small firework," he said. "I've seen more people get injured with the Roman candles or by shooting bottle rockets at each other than from anything big."

The one amputation Evenson treated was a right thumb that had been blasted off. The cause was a larger, but legally acquired firework, and the wayward appendage couldn't be reattached.

"The biggest issue with the firework burns is the combination of sheer trauma of the shockwave that will rip and tear," he said. "But then you also got the gunpowder, powder residue and everything else that will cauterize the wound.

“You get all that stuff plastered into your wound. It's a lot of debris that needs a lot of cleaning, making it difficult, if not impossible, to reattach anything."

Colors Of Pain

Evenson believes many people underestimate the dangers of smaller, easier-to-acquire fireworks.

"You get a lot of eye injuries because a firework is essentially a little aerial bomb going off," he said. "And the oohs and ahhs with sparklers is shrapnel going everywhere. Hot little pieces of melting metal showering down. That's what makes the color."

Colors are apparent but often overlooked indicators of a firework's dangerous potential. Different elements produce various colors when they burn, which is true for all fireworks regardless of size.

For example, sparklers often incorporate aluminum, magnesium or magnalium to produce white sparks. Iron produces orange branching sparks, and yellow-gold sparks are often the result of ferrotitanium.

While colorful and fun, sparklers can burn between 1,000 and 3,000 degrees. According to a 2009 report from the National Council on Fireworks Safety, sparklers are responsible for 16% of legal firework-related injuries in the United States.

The Hold My Beer A Recipe For Injury

Firework injuries might be more common over the Fourth of July, but Evenson said it's far from the most common cause of injuries during the holiday.

Regardless of how many explosives are flying around, a holiday is still a holiday, which means one thing causes more injuries, maimings and deaths than anything else.

"The No. 1 (thing) is intoxicated people being stupid," he said.

Evenson said the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are "big DUI holidays." Most of the calls he's responded to have involved alcohol rather than fireworks.

There's also a specific demographic that tends to be more prone to these kinds of injuries.

While he said it's unrelated to the Fourth of July, Evenson pointed out that most rattlesnake bites treated in the state of Wyoming are usually 18- to 30-year-old intoxicated white males.

"When you start mixing in alcohol during any holiday, you start having, ‘Here, hold my beer, watch this,' incidents,” he said. “Intoxication is the most common cause of holiday injuries."

Evenson said the incidents he's responded to over the holiday aren't any more or less traumatic than those he and his colleagues encounter daily. They require the same professionalism and mental fortitude needed for every response.

"PTSD in the EMS world is definitely high," he said. "You don't get caught up in the moment. You have a patient and a job to take care of them. Counseling and debriefing come after, but in the moment you get your head straight and go through it. That's what we're trained to do."

Common Sense

Evenson said Wednesday afternoon was relatively calm during his shift. He and his peers expected the first influx of Fourth of July incidents to start that evening.

"They'll probably start tonight," he said. "Everyone usually has their normal workday on July 3. Normal people get off work by 5:30 p.m., get home, start drinking and having fun. Then, they start lighting off their own fireworks and let the games begin."

The unique challenge of the Fourth of July isn't injuries as much as increased call volume. Summer is the peak of tourist season in Wyoming, and the Fourth of July is one of the busiest times of the year.

"It's the influx of people into the area for the holidays," he said.

Evanson hopes Wyomingites will retain their sparks of common sense on July 4. He has a few simple precautions anyone with fireworks should take before starting their shows.

"Shoot off fireworks in safe directions," he said. "Make sure you have a water hose or a charged fire extinguisher nearby, and you're not firing off into dry brush. Eye protection and gloves are always good, and never fire in anyone's direction."

Nevertheless, he was already anticipating several fireworks-related injuries over the next few days. It's just that time of year.

"I think we've all been guilty of throwing those little fireworks at each other," he said. "We've all gotten minor burns from faulty fireworks and stuff like that. But I know the running joke is you have all 10 of your fingers on July 3, and you only come back with nine on July 4. It'd be nice to avoid that.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.