A little girl was set on fire, a hand was burnt and fingers were blown off by firecrackers yesterday in front of Union Memorial Hospital.
A small crowd stood around to watch as a man lighted the fuses and stepped back to observe the firecrackers fizzle, sparkle and explode. There was no horror, but there was a serious warning.
The little girl was only a baby doll, the hands and fingers were only made of rubber and the man was Deputy Fire Marshal Richard LaBrocco demonstrating the dangers of playing with firecrackers.
Union Memorial and the state office of the fire marshal have worked together for six years to educate the public about the dangers of fireworks.
"The point of this program is to get the word out before the Fourth of July," said Amy Strong, representing the hospital.
In 1990, an estimated 12,400 fireworks-related injuries were reported to hospital emergency rooms throughout the nation, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This total was an increase of 28% over 1989.
Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Robert Thomas said that until four years ago firecracker injuries in Maryland averaged about three dozen a year. Recently the state has seen fewer such injuries.
Over the Fourth of July holiday last year, 12 Marylanders were reported injured by illegal fireworks. The worst 1990 case was that of a 3-year-old Baltimore County girl, Nikki Haddocks, who lost her fingers when a firecracker called a quarter-stick exploded.
"We're not left with a lot of options to work with when the damage is so serious," said Dr. Allen Berkowitz, hand specialist at Union Memorial, as he described the damage inflicted on the rubber hand. "Our job is to reconstruct, but with four fingers blown off, you're probably looking at using a prosthesis."
"People have to realize just how dangerous firecrackers are," he said.
Mr. Thomas said that even those fireworks that are legal in most of Maryland, such as the sparkler in the demonstration with the baby doll, are not necessarily safe.
"Our concern is that when the sparkler came into contact with the doll, it caused serious burns to the body," he said. "If it can burn the doll, it can burn humans too."
The only legal fireworks in Maryland are gold-labeled sparklers, snap-n-pops and black snakes. However, in Baltimore City and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties all fireworks are illegal.
Possessing or discharging fireworks can bring a fine of as much as $250. People selling or distributing fireworks without a license can be fined as much as $1,000.
Mr. Thomas said more than a million illegal fireworks were confiscated in Maryland last year. About 14,000 of them were the powerful quarter-sticks.
He said such illegal devices "are a lot more powerful and unstable than other regular fireworks," and added, "Most of them are just too risky to use."
"We don't think we can cure the problem of using illegal fireworks, but I think we can help reduce it," he said. "This is simply a matter of education, awareness and common sense."
Ms. Strong agreed. "The people who are using these fireworks will probably go on using them no matter what anyone says," she said, "but with this program, they will at least know what can happen to them. Hopefully we'll help save someone from getting injured."