Stay safe for the Fourth: Plan ahead for the best holiday weekend

Independence Day can be a fun and inspiring holiday, but also a potentially dangerous one. Fireworks, water and the heat are responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths every summer.

“As we prepare for a more normal Fourth of July celebration this year, it’s important for Georgians to keep safety in mind so they can enjoy the holiday weekend with family and friends, and better prevent any unnecessary accidents or potential visits to the emergency room,” said Ruby Ramirez, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Georgia. “We encourage people to have fun but also celebrate responsibly and safely,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2020, 13 people were killed in crashes on state roads over the Fourth of July weekend, according to the Georgia State Patrol. That’s fewer fatalities than the 26 who died during the 2019 holiday period, though the coronavirus pandemic likely meant fewer drivers on state roads.

“With states opening back up around the country, more motorists are traveling the roadways to spend time with friends and loved ones,” Col. Chris C. Wright, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “Although we want everyone to celebrate the holidays, we encourage practicing safe driving habits such as watching the speed limits, making sure everyone is wearing the appropriate safety restraints, paying attention to the road and not driving impaired.”

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During the unofficial kickoff to summer, Memorial Day weekend, 20 people were killed on Georgia roads. At least four others drowned, according to officials.

“State troopers and officers will be on high visibility patrols with the goal of reducing traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities, as well as discouraging impaired driving,” Wright said.

Here are ways to stay safe while enjoying the holiday.

Driving safety tips:

1. Before heading out, make sure any needed vehicle repairs have been made and check the air pressure in the tires, along with fluids and brakes. Have a first-aid kit and any other emergency supplies ready.

2. Obey the speed limit. When you speed, you reduce the amount of time needed to avoid a traffic crash.

3. Designate a driver, or call a taxi, ride-sharing service, friend or family member to help you get home safely if you drink alcohol.

4. Make sure everyone in the vehicle wears a seat belt and that children are in appropriate safety seats.

Don’t get burned

With so many fireworks displays around metro Atlanta, police and firefighters advise letting professionals handle the patriotic pyrotechnics.

Every year, an estimated 11,000 people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries from fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Around the Fourth of July, about 200 people are injured each day by fireworks. Sparklers, or hand-held fireworks, are responsible for about 25% of the injuries, the commission reported.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that more than 16,000 reported fires are started by fireworks annually.

Meanwhile, when doing burger and hotdog duty, never leave a grill unattended. Grilling causes approximately 10,000 home fires a year, according to the Red Cross.

Fireworks safety tips:

1. Read the directions carefully, and inspect the device for any defects.

2. Keep a bucket of water, a garden hose and a fire extinguisher close by.

3. Ignite fireworks outdoors in an open area away from buildings, vehicles, vegetation or any other combustible material.

“Make sure you’re abiding by the state law and that you’re not shooting in the roadway, because that’s illegal,” Paulding County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ashley Henson said.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Make a splash

Every year, several people in metro Atlanta drown, making water a leading cause of death for children.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who drowns, five receive emergency treatment for water-related incidents.

Drowning is generally quiet, and victims are rarely able to call for help, the CDC says. It can occur in less than a minute.

Swimming safety tips:

1. Provide close and constant attention to children in or near water

2. Even experienced swimmers should use the buddy system.

3. Children, inexperienced swimmers and boaters should wear life jackets.

4. Swim in an area with a lifeguard when possible.

5. Don’t dive. Enter the water feet first.

Beat the heat

Temperatures in metro Atlanta often reach the 90s this time of year, according to the Channel 2 Action News weather team. Scattered storms may offer some relief, but the heat can be unhealthy for those outside for long periods of time.

Signs of heat stroke include hot, red skin that may be dry or moist, changes in consciousness, vomiting and high body temperature, according to the Red Cross. Call 911 immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke. Try to cool the person down with wet towels or ice.

Heat safety tips:

1. Don’t leave children or animals in cars, which can quickly reach 120 degrees.

2. Check on relatives or friends without air conditioning and help them find cooler places when possible.

3. Plan your outdoor activities carefully, and consider staying indoors during the hottest part of the day.

4. Wear sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy, and reapply as directed.