Opinion: A friendly warning (Fireworks)

POSTED: 12/28/11 12:16 PM

There are no laws against stupidity. It is good to remember this now that the sale of firework to private citizens has started this week for the first time in ten years. We’re sure that the business owner who took the initiative will handle his products with care, but once they are out the door there is no way of knowing what anyone will do with it. That youngsters below the age of eighteen have to be accompanied by an adult when they buy firework is no guarantee at all for these youngsters’ safety and the safety of others.

Let’s have a look at the net result of firework-use in the Netherlands over the past fifteen years. Altogether13,660 people ended up needing first aid; during the past five years, between 5 and 14 percent of these injured revelers had to be admitted to hospital. Also, since the year-end celebrations in 1996, 21 people lost their lives.
In the early nineties, the annual number of firework-injuries that warranted medical attention hovered around 1,900. This in spite of the fact that Sire, a foundation for non-commercial advertising, had bombarded TV-viewers and newspaper readers since 1989 with the rather unforgettable slogan Je bent een rund als je met vuurwerk stunt (You’re an idiot if you stunt with firework).
When that did not have the desired effect, the foundation switched to publishing pictures and TV-spots that showed handicapped firework-victims. That got the attention of a lot of people, and annual injuries dropped from their near-2,000 levels to around 1,100. Last year, the number of injuries stood still at 710, but 17 percent of these victims ended up in hospital, while two people died.
Last year’s numbers were the lowest since 2005/2006, when “just” 630 people sustained fireworks injuries, but the percentage of hospitalized victims set a new record.
Those injuries are in general not pretty. They vary from eye-damage (including permanent blindness) to permanent damage to fingers and limbs. The ultimate price people pay for carelessness around firework is obviously death.
During the 2008/2009 celebrations for instance, 23 people became permanently blind from firework-injuries, while 14 victims had one eye surgically removed. Ophthalmologists (an expensive word for eye-doctors) treated that year 269 eyes on 232 different patients. A third of these eyes were permanently seriously damaged. Sixty percent of the victims were bystanders who did not light a single piece of firework, and more than half of them were younger than eighteen.
Statistics from the Ophthalmology Hospital in Rotterdam dating back to 2004 showed that this hospital alone operated on 40 victims that year. An astonishing 90 percent of them were between 8 and 17 years of age.
What does this mean for St. Maarten? Before we start juggling with figures we have to concede that there are a lot of unknown factors; we do not know how enthusiast people are going to be about buying their own firework, we do not know how careful they will handle it, and we do not know how much of this stuff will end up in the hands of kids below the age of 18 and in the hands of people who are either stoned, drunk, or both.
Based on the Dutch statistics and the current number of inhabitants in St. Maarten we expect in an optimistic scenario a bit more than two fireworks-victims by the time the celebrations are over. In a pessimistic scenario there will be six victims.
Of course, there is no way of knowing who these victims will be. While we trust parents to be responsible and careful, we truly wonder whether buying firework is a risk worth taking.

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