There are lots of places you could go and celebrate America's 236th birthday with fireworks.
But L.A. folks who consider fireworks a DIY project are, for the most part, out of luck: They're illegal throughout the City of Los Angeles, as well as any unincorporated areas of the county. That includes sparklers, firecrackers and rockets.
They're also illegal in a host of L.A.-area cities, including Vernon. But other cities allow "safe and sane" fireworks, which the San Jose Mercury News defines as fireworks that "don't shoot up in the air, move about on the ground or explode."
Safe and sane fireworks are allowed in 32 cities served by the L.A. County Fire Department, including:
– Baldwin Park
– Huntington Park
– South Gate
But even if fireworks are legal, doctors recommend leaving it to the professionals. Dr. David Noya, a family physician at South Central Family Health Center, hasn't seen many fireworks-related injuries at the clinic, but did at his old place of work.
"One thing that I used to see when I worked in the emergency room is the lighting of the fireworks, and it blowing up in the hands," he said. "I've seen the skyrocket ones go and puncture eyes, things like that. We see second-degree burns a lot."
Noya mainly sees hand injuries when fireworks go wrong. Dr. Cesar Barba, UMMA Community Clinic's interim medical director, says he sees anything from first- to second-degree burns.
"On top of that, there's always risk for getting particles from the fireworks in the eyes, and there are also smoke inhalation issues," said Barba, adding that burns are the most common. "We rarely see third-degree ones but that is a possibility."
But it's more than a possibility, said Dr. Warren Garner, the director of the Burn Unit at LAC+USC Medical Center.
"I've seen people who had fireworks in their pockets that exploded and damaged their legs and genitals," said Garner. "They could easily get third- and fourth-degree burns from fireworks."
He added that he's also seen people lose or damage fingers, injure parts of their hand and set their clothes on fire (and have more serious subsequent injuries).
"It's extremely variable," said Garner. "It depends on what the firework is and what someone's doing with it at the time."
In all the injuries he's seen, though, Garner says there's a common thread.
"Children not being supervised, adults using drugs and alcohol," he said.
As far as civilian use of fireworks where it's legal, Garner doesn't think anyone save professionals should use them.
"I've never seen a professional fireworks handler sustain a significant injury, although I'm sure it does happen," he said. "I think fireworks are not safe and should only be used by professionals."
Noya and Barba agreed.
"I recommend that you go to a publicly-sponsored fireworks show and not to participate in your own private show, because there's where the danger happens," said Noya. "Especially with the younger kids – you lose track of them and they get too close to the fireworks."
Barba agreed, but said that for those that insist on doing it themselves, there are some safety steps they can take.
"When you're lighting fireworks, always keep 10 to 15 feet away from the actual firework," he said. "On top of that, whoever is lighting the fireworks should use eye protection."
He also said any children nearby should be holding hands with an adult.
"Basically have a safety zone in which no one can enter the area," said Barba. "Also, have a water bucket in case there are any fires that you might have to put out."
And adults should be the only ones handling fireworks, Noya added.
"It should only be done by the adults," he said. "Especially with adolescents, because they're usually the ones that want to get involved and light the fireworks."
With all that in mind, said Noya – enjoy the show.
"Have fun," he said. "Everyone should just have a good time and celebrate. Just keep safety in mind because lighting the fireworks up could be potentially dangerous."
The L.A. County Fire Department has more fireworks safety tips.
Photo by S.J. Liew via Flickr Creative Commons.