Health & Fitness

Modesto doctor preaches July Fourth safety, describes gruesome injury to young girl

How to have a ‘Safe and Sane’ July Fourth — but still have fireworks

Tribune reporter Gabby Ferreira finds out how to stay safe while setting off fireworks from Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Steve Lieberman. They set off an assortment of "Safe and Sane" fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday.
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Tribune reporter Gabby Ferreira finds out how to stay safe while setting off fireworks from Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Steve Lieberman. They set off an assortment of "Safe and Sane" fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday.

Fourth of July celebrations don’t seem complete until colorful, blazing pyrotechnics light up the sky. But every year, backyard fireworks lead to emergency room visits.

“Last Fourth of July, we had an (adolescent) girl who was playing a game with her friends: Who could hold the firework the longest,” said Dr. Marc Trzeciak, “She lost.”

The firework blew up in her hand, which was severely damaged and required partial amputation.

Trzeciak is a hand and trauma surgeon and the director of the orthopedic surgery residency program at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

He considers Independence Day to be one of their busiest, with at least 10 people with hand injuries coming to the emergency room. That’s more than double the number on a typical day, and injuries from explosive devices are often severe.

“Burns are common for the little kids, “ said Trzeciak.

These injuries often happen from sparklers, especially from touching them after they go out, because they’re still hot. Sparklers may burn as hot as 1,000 degrees, approaching the heat from a blow torch. They account for about one-quarter of fireworks-related ER visits. He emphasized kids always need adult supervision when using fireworks.

Nationwide, from 1990 to 2014, more than 136,000 children and teens younger than 15 required emergency room visits for non-fatal injuries due to fireworks. Burns accounted for 60% of them. Hands, eyes, head and neck were the most common sites harmed.

In 2016, an estimated 7,600 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms from mid-June to mid-July, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Annually, an average of seven deaths occur due to fireworks.

Following California laws, safe and sane fireworks are legal in Stanislaus County, but they may only be sold from June 28 through July 6. Some areas of California have additional restrictions because of potential wildfire dangers.

California Health and Safety code divides fireworks into two categories — first is “dangerous,” such as large rockets, firecrackers, large sparklers (bigger than 10 inches long or one-quarter inch wide) and items that “explode, go into the air, or move on the ground in an uncontrollable manner”. A special permit, generally for pyrotechnic professionals, is required for handling these products.

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The safe and sane label pictured on a box of legal fireworks is pictured at The Modesto Police Department in Modesto. This is the label that folks should look for to ensure that their fireworks are legal in the state of California. Joan Barnett Lee Modesto Bee File

The other category is “safe and sane,” which includes smaller items such as spinners, small sparklers and snap caps, among others. A list is posted by the California State Fire Marshall. Only items labeled “safe and sane” may be used by the general public, but there are limitations. One of the most commonly ignored restriction is not giving fireworks to minors younger than 16.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that there is no safe way to use pyrotechnics, as every type has been associated with injury, and even death. Instead, the national group of pediatricians recommends that families attend a professional firework display.

Trzeciak echoed that advice. He said, “No fireworks, even legal ones, are entirely safe.”

Stanislaus County’s 24th annual Independence Day fireworks will be held in Woodward Park on July 5 at 9:30 p.m. For a complete list of area 4th of July celebrations, go to



1. No safe and sane fireworks, even those labeled “safe and sane” are without risk of injury.

2. Pay close attention to children when fireworks are being used.

3. If an explosive device doesn’t ignite, don’t approach it. Wait awhile, then douse it thoroughly with water.

4. Attend a community fireworks display — leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals.

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ChrisAnna Mink is pediatrician and health reporter for The Modesto Bee. She covers children’s health in Stanislaus County and the Central Valley. Her position is funded through the financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with The GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of her work.