By SMH Trauma Coordinator Leeann Putney
Summer is on the horizon, and if you're like us, you're gearing up to celebrate summer holidays: Memorial Day and July 4th! On the Suncoast, that means we're looking forward to boating, barbecues and fireworks with family and friends.
What we're not looking forward to is the uptick in preventable injuries that we see at Sarasota Memorial’s ER and trauma department during holiday weekends. Here are a few tips to keep your family safe—and out of the ER—as you mark Memorial Day, July 4th and other summer celebrations.
Fireworks are beautiful, but consumer fireworks, including bottle rockets and sparklers, pose many potential risks. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year several people die and tens of thousands are badly injured in fireworks-related incidents.
Many parents don’t realize how dangerous handheld sparklers can be. Sparklers are the cause of approximately 25 percent of hospital ER visits for fireworks-related injures—more than any other single type of fireworks. Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees, and the metal rods can take several minutes to cool down. They can quickly ignite clothing or cause severe burns if dropped on bare feet. Many children are burned when stepping on a sparkler or picking up one that is still hot enough to cause a burn. If you use sparklers, make sure to wear fireproof gloves to protect your hands and close-toed shoes to protect feet; put spent sparklers in a bucket of water or sand.
Propane and charcoal grills should be used only outdoors and should be well away from structures such as the home and deck railings or tree branches. Never leave a grill unattended, and make sure children stay at least 3 feet away from them at all times. kKeep a fire extinguisher nearby in the event that you need to quickly put out the flames.
Be sure your grill is clean before using it. We DO NOT recommend using metal-bristle brushes for grill cleaning; these shed bristles, which have been known to get lodged in diners’ throats after being consumed in grilled food.
If you are using a charcoal grill, allow the coals to cool off completely before disposing of them in a metal container. Use only charcoal starter fluid, and never add more starter fluid to an already existing fire.
For propane grills, check the gas hose for leaks by applying a light soap-and-water solution to the hose and then turning on the gas. If there is a propane leak, the solution will bubble. Other signs of a propane leak include the smell of gas near the grill or a flame that won’t light. If this happens, have your grill serviced by professionals. Remember, if you are using a gas grill and the flame goes out, turn the grill and the gas off, then wait at least five minutes before re-lighting it.
Memorial Day is the official summer kickoff for many, so you can be sure that Sarasota Bay and the local Gulf waters will be packed with families looking for fun and relaxation — weather permitting, of course. All boats in Florida are required to have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard the boat; passengers younger than 6 must wear a life jacket when the boat is underway.
When choosing a life jacket for an infant or child, proper fit is imperative. If it’s comfortable, they will complain less about having to wear it, but more importantly, a poor-fitting life jacket can actually increase drowning risk.
Boating safety experts recommend all children wear life jackets with crotch straps. To check that the life jacket fits well, have your child raise both arms; if the life jacket hits the child’s chin, it may be too big or the straps are too loose; if it hits his/her ears, it’s definitely too big. When you can, try the life jacket on your child before you buy it, and test the fit in a bathtub or pool before you rely on it to save their life.
Although it’s not required for older children or adults, wearing a life jacket whenever a vessel is underway is a good idea for passengers of all ages. Surprisingly, the majority of Florida’s boating fatalities are men older than 30 with over 100 hours of experience on the water. A life jacket can only save your life if you are wearing it.
Any person aboard a personal watercraft (PWC) like a Jet Ski or WaveRunner or who is being towed behind a boat is required to wear a life jacket at all times. In addition, boats must carry a readily accessible, Coast Guard-approved, throwable flotation device.
Shut off your engine when approaching swimmers or divers so that they are not hit by propeller blades. Always check the weather report before you go out, and be alert to changing weather conditions, especially during the summer when afternoon thunderstorms strike. Remember, it is illegal to operate a boat or PWC while under the influence of alcohol. Make sure you have a designated driver, and even if you are a passenger, realize that the risk of being injured increases when alcohol is involved. You can learn more safe boating tips by taking a boating safety course, and the Coast Guard also offers complimentary vessel safety checks.
We wish you all a safe and happy summer!
SMH Trauma Program Coordinator Leeann Putney has been a registered nurse with Sarasota Memorial for 28 years. Prior to joining the trauma team in 2015, she served as a critical care nurse, nurse educator and nursing Magnet Program co-lead. She received her Master of Science degree in Nursing from the University of South Florida, and lives in Sarasota with her husband and two teenage sons.
*Updated May 2019 from original 2018 post.