Experts Urge Caution as Ohio Moves Closer to Legalizing Fireworks
Many Ohioans will have a blast this weekend setting off fireworks for the Fourth of July, even though it’s technically illegal to shoot them off in the state.
A bill recently approved by Ohio lawmakers could change that. If signed into law, Senate Bill 113 would allow Ohioans to set off fireworks on certain holidays, including the Fourth of July, New Year's Day and Labor Day.
Currently, Ohioans can purchase fireworks but aren't permitted to set them off. Lawmakers came close to legalizing setting them off in 2015, but the bill never left the Ohio House floor as a result of a procedural error.
But Cleveland doctors worry about amateurs setting off fireworks. Fireworks resulted in an estimated 15,600 injuries in U.S. hospital emergency departments last year, according to a 2020 report from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Dr. Casey Kohler, a surgeon in MetroHealth’s burn unit, sees nasty injuries and traumatic burns from people using fireworks every year.
“I think sometimes if you legalize things we can try to put safety into effect which hopefully would help, but I think the important thing is that people get medical care if something happens,” Kohler said. “I think sometimes if it’s not legal, people are afraid to come in because they think they’re going to get in trouble.”
The bill working its way through the Statehouse would require stores to hand out pamphlets with safety recommendations to customers who purchase fireworks.
From severe burns to lost limbs, Dr. Baruch Fertel, director of operations at Cleveland Clinic’s emergency departments, has seen serious fireworks-related injuries and has concerns about people using them who are not properly trained.
“My recommendation always is: leave it to the professionals,” Fertel said. “I cannot recall in my career seeing somebody who was injured in a professional fireworks display.”
If people do use fireworks, Fertel said, he recommends they avoid drinking excessively and stay away from them if they appear to be malfunctioning.
Being under the influence seems to contribute to the majority of fireworks-related injuries, he added. Alcohol impairs people’s judgement and slows their reactions, Kohler said.
Both Fertel and Kohler are expecting a busy weekend in the emergency room this weekend.
“It has to do with the nice weather. It has to do with the fact that people haven’t been doing much and are now out and about and doing a lot more,” Fertel said.
Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, more people are expected to gather together, Kohler said. Travel is expected to increase 40 percent since last year’s Fourth of July holiday, according to a projection from AAA.
“This is really the first big holiday that people have got to spend together since COVID, so we’re anticipating a lot of trauma and a lot of burns coming in,” Kohler said.
People who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely gather together, she added.
“If you’re high-risk or not vaccinated, I would consider wearing a mask,” Kohler said.
Fertel suggests young children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine wear a mask in crowded settings and practice social distancing.
If the governor signs the new fireworks bill into law, it would not take effect until next year.
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