By Johnny Jackson
As area residents prepare to celebrate another Fourth of July, officials are encouraging citizens to exercise safety, and beware of potential hazards related to certain patriotic festivities.
The Henry County Fire Department encourages citizens to attend public fireworks displays conducted by trained professional pyrotechnicians rather than risk injury.
Fireworks have been the leading cause of injuries serious enough to require hospital emergency treatment in recent years, according to officials. Severe burns, permanent scarring, loss of vision, dismemberment, and even death have been the result of some amateur fireworks displays.
"Clearly, fireworks are capable of devastating and fatal injuries as well as substantial property loss," said Henry County Fire Captain Sabrina Puckett. "Don't risk losing what's most important to you."
Fireworks-related injuries decreased dramatically, from 38.3 injuries, to 3.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks, between 1976 and 2008, according to TNT Fireworks East, the largest distributor of consumer fireworks, sparklers and sparkling items in the United States.
In the organization's June 15 press release, nationally renowned fireworks expert John Conkling attributed the injury decline to an increase in consumer safety and education initiatives for the fireworks industry.
Conkling, also the spokesman for the American Pyrotechnics Association, continues to urge consumers to use only devices permitted by state law, while adhering to safety warnings and instructions on product packaging.
"For decades, sparklers and sparkling items have enhanced countless celebrations," Conkling stated in the release. "To continue the downward trend in fireworks-related injuries, though, consumers must prioritize safety and have a general understanding of how these devices function. Following a few simple guidelines -- such as only using sparklers and sparkling items outdoors in clear areas away from buildings and dry grass, and always keeping a bucket of water on hand for emergencies -- will help people stay safe."
The safety of people should not be the citizens' only priority this Fourth of July holiday. Officials reiterate that pets, too, need to be a foremost concern for residents.
The Henry County Animal Care and Control Department is reminding residents to take extra precautions this weekend to ensure their pets are in a safe, secure area.
Animal shelters receive their highest number of calls for lost pets in the days right after New Year's and the Fourth of July, according to the department's director, Gerri Yoder. She said frightened pets often run away and get lost as a result of the loud noise created by fireworks.
"People love fireworks, but they are terrifying to most animals," said Yoder.
To learn more about pet safety, visit Henry County Animal Care and Control at www.hcacc.org.
Staff writer Jason Smith contributed to this article.