MANATEE -- Independence Day can be hazardous, especially if you're a kid.
Local fire and rescue officials are urging parents to be cautious and to keep a close eye on their children while celebrating in the height of summer.
Burns, whether from fireworks or sun exposure, and drownings are the most prominent dangers on the Fourth of July.
E.J. Weppel winces every time he sees a 6-year-old child holding a sparkler on the Fourth of July.
Weppel, whose company will be putting on the $30,000 fireworks show from the Green Bridge on July 4, knows that the tip of a sparkler can be several hundred degrees Fahrenheit moments after it has gone out.
The lit tip of a sparkler can reach temperatures of more than 1,200 degrees, which can easily cause third-degree burns, said Rick Findlay, fire inspector for the City of Bradenton.
Megarie van Sickel, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross's Southwest Chapter, joined Weppel and Findlay in advising Manatee County residents and visitors to not only use caution with sparklers, rockets, M80s and other fireworks during the upcoming Independence holiday but also be careful at the beach where the danger of rip currents and drowning is high. And the possibility of skin or eye damage from UV rays is always a threat.
Nearly 90 percent of emergency room fireworks injuries involve fireworks which consumers are allowed to buy legally, such as sparklers, Findlay reports.
"If a child touches the end of the rod, he or she can be badly burned," Weppel said. "Parental supervision is a must."
Weppel says parents should stay close to a child holding the legal sparklers and explain that they must not touch the end even after it has quit burning.
"Kids are curious and they don't know what a sparkler is, so it is natural to reach for it," Weppel said.
In addition to sparklers, other items approved for sale in Florida include smoke devices, party poppers, snappers and snakes, Findlay said.
Examples of fireworks not allowed include anything that leaves the ground and/or explodes, such as launchable rockets with stands, projectile fireworks, firecrackers, M80s, mortars and bottle rockets, Findlay said.
Weppel and Findlay agree that even though sparklers are among the only legal fireworks in Florida, it won't keep celebrants from blasting off illegal fireworks and they must also practice caution with them.
"They shouldn't be put on a lawn of dry grass or near any combustible material," Findlay said. "I'll put it this way, many people have too much of a good time before they start their own, personal fireworks show, leading to operator error."
In 2010, fireworks caused an estimated 15,500 fires nationwide, including 1,100 structural fires, 300 vehicle fires and 14,100 outside and other fires resulting in eight deaths and 60 injuries, according to information provided by Findlay.
"The biggest problem I see is when people mix their bottle rockets and M80s with alcohol and put
these fireworks on uneven ground where they can tip over and fire," Weppel said. "Also, people often are way too close when they fire them. The rule is that anytime you are dealing with explosive, you must maintain a good distance."
More fires are reported on July 4 than any day in the year, Findlay added.
"In my 24 years in Bradenton, I have been called out more than once for a possible structural fire which was caused by improper use of fireworks," Findlay said.
Rips, rays and hydration
The American Red Cross estimates that eight out of 10 Manatee County residents will spend some time at either the beach, pool, water park, boating or fishing this summer, which unofficially kicks off with the long Fourth of July weekend.
"People must be aware of the danger of rip currents," said van Sickel. "If caught in a rip current, victims must swim parallel to the shore until out of the current. When free, turn and swim toward shore. If unable to swim to the shore, call out for help, float or tread water until free of the rip current and then head toward shore."
"Always swim at a lifeguard protected beach," van Sickel added. "Always swim with a buddy and always swim sober."
Van Sickel also advises to limit direct sunlight exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15, not forgetting to reapply it often.
"Protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses that will absorb 100 percent of UV sunlight," van Sickel said.
Beach shoes are also recommended because the sand is hot and can burn feet and the sand may also contain glass shards.
Finally, stay hydrated, van Sickel said.
"Drink plenty of water regularly, even if you're not thirsty," van Sickel said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.