A graphic warning for fireworks fans


Aesop has provided a very graphic image of the damage a firework can do to your hand if it’s treated carelessly.  I’m not going to reproduce it here on a family-friendly blog, but if you have children (or adults!) who are careless with fireworks, you could do a lot worse than make them look at it.  It’s shocking and nauseating, but it’s what happens when you play with danger.

Fireworks are fairly common in the USA, but in Britain and her former colonies their use is concentrated around Guy Fawkes Night (November 5th).  I was a volunteer with St. John Ambulance in South Africa, and we used to dread that time of the year.  We knew we’d see people with fingers, even hands, blown off, or eyes put out, or faces burned, torn and lacerated by the explosion of a firework.  Many of the injuries were beyond easy repair, requiring plastic surgery to reconstruct them;  and some couldn’t be repaired at all (missing fingers are hard to replace).

The worst injuries were in mining communities, where access to explosives wasn’t hard to arrange, despite stringent security precautions.  Blasting caps provided very loud bangs in their own right, even if not attached to a quarter- or half-stick of dynamite.  What’s more, there were always idiots who’d try to crimp them onto a fuse using their teeth – resulting in shattered teeth, broken jaws, and torn tongues.  You’d think their colleagues would have learned from their misadventures, but no . . . every year, the same damned thing happened again.  I guess it was a combination of macho and human stupidity.

As Einstein put it:  “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”  We ambulance volunteers were more than sure about the latter!  If Aesop’s gory image can help cure some of the stupid before they’re forced to live with the consequences of their stupidity, so much the better.



  1. The stupid will always be with us regardless of how much you try to suppress it. And as Jim Wetzel, a commentor on Aesop's post said, even when you are not generally stupid, you can have a momentary lapse and do something stupid.

  2. Born 1960 in mid west America.
    I remember as a child, having several pamphlets (comic book style) about what to do if we found a blasting cap.
    Fireworks can be a lot of fun. Just don't do stupid at the same time.

  3. I think that part of the problem here in the US is that the various levels of .gov decided to make the world safe by outlawing the use of fireworks by the citizens. When I was a kid, we got taught by parents and other adults how to safely handle firecrackers and other noisemakers/explosives. That went away, but not the availability. So, every year is a new learning experience for too many people.

  4. Here in Lake County IL (Waukegan) some poor 24 year old miscreant leaned over a "dud" and caught the full force right in the face. Word in the local media is he's lost an eye and had most of his face cooked to char-broiled.

  5. Yeah, back when I was young and stupid (I do TRY to learn from my mistakes), I thought bottle rockets were to be launched from the beer bottle in your hand. Until one time the rocket motor failed but the warhead didn't. There was a flash the size of a basketball about two feet in front of my face. I suffered no real flesh wounds, but it was several hours before I could hear again. Forty years later, I wonder if it has anything to do with the raging case of tinnitus I have. Well, that and all those rock concerts so long ago.
    Aesop's picture is gruesome and graphic, but very, very real, and well worth noting and passing along. I don't think there's much of that hand that even plastic surgery can salvage.

  6. Alcohol always helps….
    A few days ago, YouTuber 1ShotTV tested various (US-legal) fireworks on a simulated human hand.
    Legal firecrackers, regardless of branding or outside dimensions, aren't allowed more'n (IIRC) 50mg of flash powder per bang, so they don't do much damage. Not to a hand, anyway. Stuck in an ear would be a different matter.
    Aerial shells are a different matter entirely; while the lift charge isn't all that impressive, having one of those big booms happen up close and personal would be Bad News, as the aforementioned video demonstrates in dramatic fashion.
    We had front-yard fireworks this year, for the first time ever (hey, they're legal here! We're not in California anymore!), and the load-light-run away procedure was remarkably awkward. Next year, many launch tubes and electrical ignition.

  7. Even the professionals can have a bad day
    Luckily no one was hurt. As was noted in an earlier comment if you use most consumer fireworks AND follow reasonable safety precautions (stay the heck away from failed fireworks, Have sand and water to douse anything that goes wrong) you'll probably be fine. But leave the big shells to the pros, they're essentially small black powder powered mortars…

  8. Forty odd years ago I had a friend who boiled the nitroglycerin out of railroad flares. They were designed to go bang when run over by a train signaling to the driver that something was up. No idea if they are used today. He had way too much fun leaving a drop of nitro in unexpected places. He also had restored a demilled German machinegun to firing order. The police were not amused but he was 13 at the time and it was a different world.

  9. I remember my dad holding Black Cat firecrackers in his hand and letting them go off – but he damn sure wouldn't do that with an M80! We also used to have bottle rocket wars across a busy multi lane street in north Dallas, surprised no one ever got hurt.
    My son has sent me some photos and x-rays of such damage, even more hamburger-y than what Aesop posted. Amazingly enough, hand reconstruction surgery restored a fair bot of function since the thumb was at least partially still there. And there's always a hand transplant – amazing procedure that has a good success rate.
    Be careful out there – it only takes a millisecond of lapse in mental awareness to have a real problem on your hand (pun intended!)…

  10. Fireworks are one issue in the ED.

    Another is burns when uncapping hot automobile radiators in summer.

    And another is having a party with a "cook-in" in summer with all the invited guests being adults or older children who congregrate indoors when the food is nearly ready to be served: the residential toddler wanders off unsupervised to the unsecured backyard pool. It took cetaceans 10 to 20 million years to become aquatic; the toddler does not have that much time, and shows up moribund in the ED.

    And there are the visiting grandparents: the toddler too short to be visible behind the car gets run over and killed as they are backing out of the driveway. This was not a one-off fluke: I've seen three such cases in my time as an Emergency Physician.

    And every summer it is quite roasonable to expect that a few small children will be cooked to death in closed cars parked out in the sun. Our ancestor six million years ago was also the ancestor of the chimpanzees before our lineages diverged. Bonobo Lives Matter?

  11. Back when I was young and foolish, I stepped on a lit m80. Unlike a normal firecracker it didn’t go pffft under my shoe.

    The explosion blew a chunk out of the floor and broke two bones in my foot. Two of the hardest bones in the body, the doctors said.

    In the ER I got tired of answering “You did what?!” (Probably followed by a muttered “dumbass” as they walked away)

    The pain was exquisite.

    It healed though. Took months. To this day, over 30 years later, it still bothers me when it’s cold and damp.

  12. A stupid I did when I was a teenager… Not fireworks related, but close enough.

    I found one of those large flash-bulbs, like what old-time photographers used to use, in a neighbors trash one day. It was unused. So, my 14year old genius self wondered if a 9volt transistor radio battery would set it off. I'm holding this thing with a pair of pliers about a foot and a half from my face when I touched the battery across the contacts.

    It worked!

    Boy did it work! I was almost totally blind for about the next two hours. (At least I didn't get burned.) I stayed in my room for a long time thinking I was going to have to fess up to my mom what a dumb-ass I was and have her take me to the ER, when my vision slowly returned. However, it wasn't until the next day that I could see in color again.

  13. One of the demonstrations to us kids was an uncle tossing M80's into a creek on his property. He taped a small stone to it to make it sink. The fuse is waterproof. When they exploded, it very much resembled those films of destroyers dropping depth charges on submarines. An amazing amount of water erupted from that creek.

    An older brother of a friend had obtained something even more powerful. I don't recall the designation of it, but later found out it was the equivalent of a 1/4 stick of dynamite. Yellow and black stripes on it. He tossed one into the canopy of a very large oak tree. The tree was totally denuded of leaves.

  14. Will: Yup, even a small underwater explosion can be quite impressive. As a kid, I once made a waterproof mini-bomb, not all that much much more powerful than a basic firecracker, and set it off in a tub of water underneath a good-sized plastic model boat. The boat rose (according to vague and kid-scale memory) a couple of feet in the air, and was well and truly broken.

  15. Will, I have actually done what you described only what I did was make a tiny submarine out of 3 taped together and sealed up soda cans. I tied it to a big rock and sunk it into a pool in the nearby creek. I then tossed the weighted M80 in on top of it to see what it would do.

    The M80 went off about a foot away from the soda cans. When I fished the contraption out of the water, all three cans had collapsed like a giant hand had crushed them.

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