Danger ahead! The Fourth of July can be hazardous to your health

 

Miami Herald Writer

As South Florida gets ready for a day of cookouts, boating and fireworks for the Fourth, here’s a simple reminder:

Don’t blow your hand off, get shot, wreck your car in a drunken stupor or double-over from warm potato salad.

The people responsible for your safety — cops, firefighters, public health officials — want you to stay safe out there.

Unfortunately, a pre-Fourth fireworks tragedy has already maimed a Broward man when a golf ball-sized mortar took out most of his hand.

“When things go bad with fireworks they go really bad, and often before 911 can respond. It could have been a much more tragic outcome,” said BSO officer Mike Jachels.

Earlier this week, Shanard Saxon, 41, had to have his hand amputated after the accident. Saxon, of Pompano Beach, was at a friend’s house when the accident happened, and the Broward Sheriff’s Bomb Squad seized thousands of dollars worth of fireworks, all of which were legally owned, police say.

Sixty percent of all fireworks injuries last year occurred in the month surrounding Independence Day, and about 24 percent of those injuries happened as a result of sparklers and bottle rockets, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

FIREWORKS SAFETY

Devin Cuson, 41, who has been a roadside firework seller for a decade, has some safety advice for the both the over-achievers and the amateurs out there.

“You should always be in an open area, have a bucket of water nearby, try to use something safe to light [the fireworks] like a barbecue lighter,” said Cuson of Miami Gardens. And when it comes to children (who are at greatest risk for injury according to the National Fire Protection Association), Cuson says parents and guardians should just use common sense.

“They shouldn’t be up close to any lighter, and they should never put their face in front of anything, they should always be a safe distance away.”

That’s why Jodi Atkison, who’s been hosting her neighbors on the Fourth in her Palmetto Bay home for years, chooses to let her husband handle things. She still worries when he goes into the backyard to light the fireworks, but says that he and her neighbors always keep an eye on any children at the party.

“We definitely make sure their parents are with them, there’s a dad and a mom with the kids at all times,” Atkison said.

Susan Wong, 60, works at the Firework Lady stand in Davie and says when customers buy larger fireworks they take extra measures to make sure families know the risks involved.

"We have safety brochures that we give out with the big packs," Wong said.

Melissa Magen of Hollywood spent more than $600 on heavy-duty fireworks at the TNT Fireworks store in Dania Beach. The mother of four says that she’s had a set plan for years on how to keep kids safe when they start the show.

"The adults stand ahead and make a barrier and the kids sit in chairs and watch," Magen said. "We do it in the park in our community."

Miramar resident, Serlo Mathelier, 42, has been shopping at TNT Fireworks for the past 10 years and says the company’s solid reputation keeps him coming back and has helped him create a strategy to stay safe during the holiday.

"If you have a good amount of land space you can use a protective board that keeps the rocket from ricocheting and going all over the place," Mathelier said.

BULLETS IN THE AIR

In addition to the dangers of errant explosives, authorities are warning of errant bullets, all too common during South Florida celebrations.

Ignoring the pretty simple scientific explanation of what goes up must come down, people shooting off their guns on Independence Day are asking for trouble.

Brandon Reid knows. The 15-year-old was shot in the head in Miramar by a stray bullet after the Miami Heat won NBA Finals. He survived.

In the past, Miami’s police department and other city and county leaders have launched campaigns to curtail the celebratory shooting such as “No More Stray Bullets” and “One Bullet Kills the Party.” The latter had the support of Miami rapper Pitbull. And while celebratory gunfire incidents account for only 5 percent of stray bullet injuries, according to a 2012 UC Davis study, almost a third of the victims were children.

TRAFFIC OBSTACLES

Independence Day also can be a headache than holiday for officers patrolling the roads.

Nearly 800 people were killed in vehicle accidents between 2007 and 2011 just on the Fourth of July, and more than half of those accidents were alcohol-related, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2012, Florida recorded 42 traffic deaths during the Fourth of July holiday period.

And while many civilians think to avoid DUIs, there’s the additional danger on the water of BUI — boating under the influence. Alcohol played a role in 17 percent of boating fatalities, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Those fatalities are just the damage done to humans, but doesn’t account for manatees, an endangered species in Florida. The Save the Manatee Club hopes to make more boaters aware of the sea-dwellers as the holiday approaches.

Patrick Rose, the organization’s executive director, admits that their latest effort — to have boaters carry signs indicating the presence of manatees — is entirely voluntary on the part of boaters and hasn’t directly been proven to reduce accidents in the past. But he hopes that those who participate make a least a small difference in reducing manatee deaths due to boat collisions, the leading human-related cause of manatee deaths according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“On the Fourth your day can go pretty rough, you’re going to need to keep hydrated, you might get tired. It might take extra effort to keep [boaters] aware,” said Rose, adding that “most boat owners are extra sympathetic to the manatee’s plight.”

Organizations are taking additional steps beyond just offering suggestions and tips, the Miami police set up a DUI checkpoint on the MacArthur Causeway, which connects the city with Miami Beach, and the county is offering the Tow to Go program, with AAA, through the weekend to give drunk drivers a free ride home and a tow for their vehicle.

In Broward, the sheriff’s office is teaming up with the Florida Highway Patrol to “saturate’ the highways to enforce traffic laws and crack down on DUI.

FOOD SAFETY

Even if South Floridians remain sober, buckle up and avoid igniting their homes and limbs, they still face the unseen threat of food poisoning. Gulp.

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that there are nearly 50 million cases of food-borne illness annually and the International Food Information Council adds that the summer is an especially dangerous time for chefs because bacteria spreads faster when food is cooked in warmer temperatures. To avoid yet another reason for a hospital trip or a rough Fifth of July, the USDA has some suggestions for preparing food. They include properly utilizing a meat thermometer, using clean utensils and ensuring that food is stored at proper temperatures. The main tip is to keep food out of the “danger zone,” which means keeping hot food above 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

So if that potato salad feels warm ...

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