Fourth of July holiday celebrations are long honored American traditions. For most people the commemoration of our Independence Day is a time for travel, families, friends, parties, barbecues and beer, backyard pools, fireworks, fun, etc.

However, first responders know all too well that the Fourth of July holiday weekend is one of the deadliest holidays in the United States. This year the holiday weekend is a whopping five days, July 3 to July 8, and officers will see the worst of it. Dangers abound…

Danger #1: Traffic-related deaths are the leading cause of death and injury during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Despite higher gas prices, U.S. travelers will hit the roads, rails, and airports in record numbers this Fourth of July holiday. AAA estimates some 46.9 million Americans will travel over 50 miles this weekend. 40 million of these travels will be my automobiles.

Add alcohol, and the deaths increase. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has stated that the Fourth of July is the worst day of the year for fatal car crashes. Estimates range from 40%-50% of all fatal accidents this weekend will be caused by drunk driving. Last Fourth of July, Americans cracked open about 68 million cases of beer. In fact, more beer is sold on Uncle Sam’s birthday than on any other holiday including St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

Danger #2: Fireworks

Neighborhood and backyard fireworks displays bring some of the most devastating injuries into the Emergency Department, with an average of 230 firework-related injuries per day. More than 50% percent of fireworks-related injuries are from burns exclusively or burns combined with the blast injuries. Of course, illegal fireworks are the cause of a large number of these injuries and their production standards cannot even be monitored. The following statistics are courtesy of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Injuries by Body Parts

·        Hands/fingers:36%;

·         Head, faces, ears: 19%

·         Eyes: 19%

·         Trunk: 11%

·         Legs: 10%

·         Arms: 5%

Injuries by Age

·         0-4: 9%

·         5-9: 15%

·         10-14: 11%

·         15-19: 12%

·         20-24: 11%

·         25-44: 34%

·         45-64: 9%


·         Gender: Men 74%, Women 25%. (no surprise here)

·         Sparklers and firecrackers accounted for 40% of all injuries.

·         Sparklers can burn at a temperature of 2,000 degrees hot enough to melt metal. Children under 5 using sparklers and other “safer” options accounted for more than 40 percent of the injuries.

·         Only 4% of injuries were due to public displays.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (SPSC) recommends the following tips to prevent injuries: never relight\ fireworks that didn’t fully ignite, keep\a bucket of water on hand, light fireworks one at a time and moving back as soon as the firework is lit. Children should never play with fireworks.

Danger #3: Celebratory Gun Fire

Some people were absent for the elementary school explanation of gravity; what goes up must come down. These geniuses come out in droves for 4th of July celebrations. Bullet goes up fast and hard, bullets come down, bullets come back down and can hit people. Complicated principle I know. The most common site of injury is the head and the wounds can be fatal. Women, children and elderly are increasingly injured in stray bullet shootings, of which celebratory shootings are one.

At times it can be very difficult to distinguish celebratory gunfire from neighborhood fireworks displays. This practice is often associated with urban settings, but it has been reported worldwide in many different settings. In 2015, the amount of illegal gunfire over Fourth of July weekend, was five times that of the period leading up to it. Some cities have seen a reduction in celebratory gunfire with the use of SpotShotter technology, which could be a resource for other areas. These types of shootings are very difficult to track, account for, and prosecute because bullets fired at an angle below vertical can travel a great distance making its origin and shooter much more difficult to detect.

Danger #3: Crowd/Riot Control

People can become unruly and caught up in a mob mentality at any time in crowds and protests. Recent media news stories have been extremely focused on supposed peaceful protests. Officers will be under scrutiny to any action, or non-action this weekend. Crowd control may be needed at parades, fireworks shows, beaches, amusement parks, popular headliners venues.

Other Danger:

1.       Heat Related Illnesses: Triple digit temperature, crushing humidity, dehydration, and alcohol use can quickly lead to heat exhaustion, stoke and subsequent death.

2.       Swimming Accidents: When parents are barbequing, setting up for dinner, and drinking, it is easy to forget to supervise a swimming pool at all times. Toddlers, children, and drunk adults are particularly susceptible to drowning and other pool injury accidents.

3.       Food poisoning: A Fourth of July cookout is truly a tasty tradition. However, special care grilling meat, as well as, preparing and refrigerating perishables. Use meat thermometers. Put the potato salad away until you are ready to serve.

The Bottom Line for Law Enforcement

Until you have dodged a Roman candle or bottle rocket aimed at you, you have not really experience the 4th of July. According to Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), dating back to 1866, there have been a total of 89 police officers killed in the line of duty on Independence Day. This number is significantly higher than the days surrounding the July 4th. Countless others have been assaulted and injured. Be safe out there.

4th of July Tips for LEOs:

1.       Fireworks, roman candles and bottle rockets can be weapons. Remember this if you’re making contact with individuals who are likely under the influence of something.

2.       Drunk drivers can injure or kill you too in and outside of your patrol car.

3.       Crowds can quickly get unruly during mass celebrations. Drinking and an already charged-up crowd can inspire some people to be more confrontational with police than they would normally be. Wait for back-up if you think you might need it. Be prepared for riot control.

4.       The 4th can be extremely hot. If you’re working, stay hydrated, bring a couple of gallons of cool water. Wear your vest anyway, dress appropriately, wear a hat, wear sunscreen, and wear bug spray.

5.       Review some targeted first aid for: missing fingers, a variety of burns, bottle rockets to the eye, alcohol poisoning, heatstroke, dehydration, drowning, heat stroke, etc.

6.       Review your department’s water rescue protocol and procedures. Boating is a popular activity, drinking and boating can be deadly.

7.       Don’t leave the station without your fire extinguisher. Where there are fires, there is a potential for fire. If you’re prepared to act early, you can avoid bigger problems.

On July 4, 1776 a new nation was born. Happy Birthday America. All of us here at wish you and your family a fun and safe holiday.

By Pamela Kulbarsh |