WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - First responders are gearing up for another Fourth of July weekend, and the inevitable calls for service that come with it.
In 2018, the Wilmington Fire Department received 68 total calls for service, 34 of which were verified incidents, on July 4-5.
One of those was a structure fire, public information officer Natosha Vincent says, the department assisted with. The rest were either medical calls, car crashes or reports of illegal burning.
“We do see an increase,” Vincent said of the holiday period. Much of that increase comes from the high number of visitors that come to the Wilmington area during the weekends surrounding Independence Day, particularly the increase in car crashes.
However, the Fourth of July as a holiday presents additional challenges for fire departments due to the incendiary activities associated with the celebration.
“Mostly [what] we’re concerned about is fireworks at home,” Vincent said. “Especially around children, pets, and even our veterans with PTSD.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 16,000 fires are started by fireworks each year.
Even sparklers pose a threat, burning at up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to cause a third-degree burn.
“When it comes to fireworks and sparklers, keep an eye on your children, make sure you’re not pointing them at anyone or any pets, or any structures, and use them as the directions say to use them," Vincent said. "This is not the time to pull a prank on your brother or something like that.”
Burns are not the only risk factor for consumer fireworks, she said.
Veterans and others who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can experience severe reactions to the sound of fireworks, particularly if they go-off unexpectedly. Unlike public fireworks displays, which are scheduled in advance and therefore mostly avoidable, consumer fireworks often catch people off-guard.
Other than fireworks, Vincent said grills pose the next-highest threat to safety during the Fourth of July holiday season.
The NFPA estimates 19,000 people are sent to the hospital each year for grilling-related injuries, the majority for thermal burns.
July is also the peak month for grill fires, which can result from units falling over, being left unattended, being too close to flammable options or other human error.
Vincent said the NFPA and other experts suggest keeping children, pets and anyone not working the grill at least three feet away from the flame.
Other grilling safety tips:
- If using propane, keep the tank full and check the valves and hoses annually for leaks
- Always light a grill with the hood or top open
- Keep grills clean to reduce smoking and flame-ups
- Keep grills away from structures, railings or low-hanging tree branches
- Use long-handled tools when manipulating food items
Having a fire extinguisher on hand, Vincent said, or a “fully charged” water hose — meaning it is connected to a water source and ready to deploy — can mean the difference between a festive holiday and a tragic one.
Fire and burns aren’t the only risks those celebrating Independence Day face, Vincent said.
With soaring temperatures and elevated heat indices expected to continue through the weekend, she said those celebrating outside need to be particularly mindful of heat-related illnesses.
“I know it seems like you might not need it because we’re drenched in sweat with all of this humidity, but we’re losing it just as fast as we can take it in, so let’s just keep that intake of water constant,” she said.
Warning signs of heat-related illness:
- Sweating profusely or not sweating at all
- Flushed features
- Clammy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
While older adults and young children are the most susceptible to heat-related illness, Vincent said they still get calls, and if you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms, she said to call 911 immediately.
Ultimately, Vincent said WFD wants everyone, whether they are native to the Cape Fear region or simply visiting, to have a fun and festive, but safe holiday.
“As much as we love to see our citizens and the visitors at Wilmington, we don’t want to see them hurt. We don’t want to see them unsafe," she said, adding: "We want the visitors to have a great time go back home and tell their friends what a wonderful time it was in Wilmington, and not tell them of a sad story that happened while they were here”