Local health and safety officials want your Fourth of July to end with a bang — not a burn.


They hope you can avoid an injury like the one suffered by an Akron teen this week who blew off the tips of his fingers while playing with fireworks.


"Fireworks can be dangerous," said Kevin Gostkowski, president of the Akron fire union. "It seems like a good idea at the time. It’s never a good idea in a neighborhood where kids are running around playing."


Gostkowski and other local officials are concerned that fireworks injuries may skyrocket this year, with more people opting to put on their own shows in place of the many community displays canceled or scaled back because of COVID-19.


Commercial fireworks sales are up substantially, as are complaints to police and fire departments about fireworks being set off in neighborhoods. Akron police, for example, received 231 fireworks complaints in the past month — up nearly 87% from the 31 complaints during this time last year.


The complaints — and the injuries — generally get worse during the Fourth of July weekend when more than 10,000 people nationwide are normally treated for fireworks-related injuries.


"We think, ‘They make them. They’re out there. It has to be safe,’ " said Donna Skoda, the Summit County health commissioner. "That’s not true. You can be injured very quickly — and burnt."


Skoda said fireworks injuries often require trips to the hospital, which already are busy serving the needs of coronavirus patients.


"We don’t want hospital medical systems to have a double burden," she said.


Safest course


Local officials suggest the best, safest course for those hoping to get their fireworks fix is to take advantage of the displays that are still planned.


In Akron, smaller displays will be offered Saturday night in several neighborhoods rather than one large downtown show. The Akron RubberDucks also will have fireworks after a screening of "Frozen II" at Canal Park, with a limited number of tickets being sold.


A few suburban communities, including Streetsboro and Northfield, also will have fireworks on the holiday.


Ohio law allows non-professionals to use four fireworks novelties: sparklers, snakes, snaps and smoke bombs. A bill that recently passed the Ohio House would permit commercial-grade fireworks, including firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles, to be used anytime, anywhere. The bill hasn’t yet passed the Senate.


Gov. Mike DeWine and many local officials oppose the bill because of safety concerns.


"I’m totally opposed to it," said Skoda, who plans to discuss fireworks concerns during a media briefing Thursday. "It’s just dangerous unless it’s with an individual used to working with fireworks or companies set up with safety precautions."


Skoda added, "You wouldn’t give a toddler a cherry bomb."


Besides causing injuries, Gostkowski said fireworks also pose a fire hazard, with the potential for blazes at vacant homes and in surrounding brush. He said fireworks cause nearly 20,000 fires nationwide a year, including to structures, vehicles and outside areas.


Gostkowski said those considering lighting off their own fireworks should remember the negative impact on pets and combat veterans who have PTSD. He said he’s seen several signs posted in yards recently warning that a veteran lives there and asking that people refrain from using fireworks in the vicinity.


Gostkowski said homemade fireworks can be even more dangerous than those sold at the store. He recalled an incident in July 2013 in which an Akron man was injured when a bag of about 50 homemade, high-powered "quarter sticks" exploded in his hands as he left a Grand Avenue home.


The man lost an arm, and the explosion impaired his eyesight and left him with scars all over his body. The man who made the fireworks went to prison.


"Leave it to the professionals or leave it until next year," Gostkowski advised.



Heaviest risks


Heather Trnka, the injury prevention supervisor at Akron Children’s Hospital, said 64% of fireworks injuries involve males and a third of the injuries involve people who are younger than 18. She said about a third of the injuries are to fingers and hands, with many involving fireworks that are duds and go off belatedly.


Trnka said many people may not realize that even sparklers can be dangerous. She said sparklers can burn up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than a blowtorch. She suggested that they not be given to small children.


"I don’t know how many parents will hand their kids a blowtorch, but they will hand them a sparkler," she said.


Trnka said drinking alcohol and lighting fireworks should be avoided.


In a warning that’s unique to the times, Skoda said wearing a mask while lighting fireworks also could be a bad combination.


"You have a cloth that is flammable covering your face and you are swirling fire around your head," she said.


"We have to kind of just slow and think differently about safety," Skoda continued. "There’ll be other fireworks shows in the future."


Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.