UW study shows 40 percent of firework-related injuries from legal fireworks

Staggering statistics from the University of Washington show nearly 40 percent of fireworks-related injuries at Harborview Medical Center are from shell-and-mortar style fireworks sold legally in our state.

Mike Spencer was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center.in 2015 after he was injured setting off a shell-and-mortar in Montana.

The pictures are hard to look at -- but they're a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when setting off even legal fireworks.

“I lit the fuse,” Spencer explained. “I held it above my head and it detonated in the tube in my hands and exploded in my hands.”

Spencer was a commercial pilot in Kentucky.


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He lost several fingers and had to undergo 11 reconstructive hand surgeries, including one to transfer a toe to reconstruct his thumb.

Spencer is one of 294 victims of severe fireworks-related injuries at Harborview from 2005 to 2015 that UW researchers looked at in a first-of-its-kind study to determine which types of fireworks are causing the most severe injuries.

“We believe these findings question the safety of federally legal shells-and-mortar style fireworks,” said Dr. Brinkley Sandvall from UW and the study’s lead author.

Researchers also said the injuries are as severe as or even more severe those from than illegal fireworks.

“No fireworks are to be considered safe,” said Lt. Joshua Pearson with Seattle Fire Department’s Medic One.

The study found adults were more likely to be injured from shell and mortars. The majority of children's injuries came from rockets. Teens are more likely to be injured from homemade fireworks.

More than 10,000 people are treated in emergency rooms across the country because of fireworks.

It's not just the person setting them off who gets hurt. Bystanders are frequently injured, too.

“It's really sad to see injuries to people that are preventable but cause permanent damage,” added Dr. Monica Vavilala from UW and a co-author of the study.

With just another week before these stands start going up in some parts of the sound, experts are warning you to be careful -- regardless of how safe and sane these fireworks are touted on these shelves.

Better yet, officials advise you to leave the fireworks to the pros.

“I wish I had,” Spencer said.


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