Safe and sane

Follow these sensible tips to keep your Fourth of July injury free

The morning after Fourth of July in Deer Park – one of few spots in Spokane County that still allows personal fireworks – is a “pretty impressive sight,” said Michael Moran, who drives in for work from his home out of town.

After an explosive night, crews are at work early cleaning up fireworks debris from empty lots.

The morning after is also when business tends to pick up at Deer Park Urgent Care, said Moran, its business manager.

Yes, a few revelers bring in their burns from fireworks and sparklers, he said. Mostly, though, Fourth of July marks the start of summer-injury season for the urgent care center. Independence Day is when people head out to soak up the sun (without sunscreen or drinking enough water), pull a few fish from the lake (and snag a hook in their finger), feel the grass beneath their bare feet (and broken glass).

“We get a lot of lacerations, dehydration, cuts and the occasional falling down,” Moran said.

Happy Summer-Injury Season! Here are some tips for avoiding physical danger this Fourth of July.   

Alcohol and water make a bad blend.

It’s not fires that have kept area firefighters busy over recent Fourth of July holidays.

Fireworks, including sparklers, were banned in most of Spokane County in 1993. (They’re allowed only on private property in Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Deer Park and on designated areas on Indian reservation land.)

After the ban, “our fireworks-related calls went to pretty much zero,” said Jack Cates, a deputy chief for Spokane County Fire District 9, which covers the northern part of the county.

Instead, DUI calls and water-related accidents comprise most of the department’s Fourth of July business, he said, along with calls that combine the two: Alcohol is usually a factor in water-related accidents, Cates said.

Boats and personal watercraft operated by drinkers run into one another, into docks, into people. Drunk people drown. 

“Don’t get yourself inebriated and try to go swimming,” Cates said. “Bad things happen there.”

Beware fellow revelers on strict schedules.

AAA expects a 4 percent increase in travel by car over the holiday, projecting 35.5 million people plan would hit the roads across America, based on results of a survey about travel plans. It found 84 percent of Independence Day holiday travelers would travel by car, a high for the decade.

Cates said the best advice he could give holiday travelers is to relax. Don’t rush on the road – distracted, harried drivers cause accidents.

“Slow down, plan and give yourself plenty of time,” he said. “You’re going to be (traveling) with a lot of people who want to get there quick and get the party on.”

Heat your meat. Wash your melons.

Your Enchiladas Supreme Doritos contain hydrolyzed corn protein, which sounds bad enough. But salmonella may lurk in your chicken breasts or E. coli on your leafy greens.

Other potentially hazardous foods common on picnic menus include ground beef, sliced melons and tomatoes, along with dairy products and sprouts, said Irene Rapp, a Veradale consulting dietician.

When you slice melons and tomatoes, you can drag illness-causing bacteria from the rind or skin to the flesh of the fruit, where they multiply rapidly.

“The recommendation is that you wash the skin of your melons before you slice them,” Rapp said. Use a solution of 2 tablespoons of bleach and a gallon of water.

As for the greens, the Culinary Institute of America recommends submerging them in a bowl of water, letting dirt and sediment settle, and then using a salad spinner.

Failure to properly cook barbecue fare such as chicken and hamburgers is another leading cause of food poisoning, Rapp said.

Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees. Ground beef should be cooked to 160.

“At a family picnic you’re not going to run around with a thermometer,” Rapp conceded (although she said she does and thinks we’d all be better off if we did, too).

But you can cut into your grilled meats to check for doneness. If your chicken bleeds, it’s not done. As for your burger: “If it’s pink and kind of soft … there’s no way I’d eat it,” Rapp said.

Heed the danger zone for food.

The “danger zone” for food is from 41 and 140 degrees, Rapp said. That’s where harmful bacteria grow quickly. (In Idaho, the zone is defined legally as 41 to 135 degrees.)

To keep potentially harmful food like potato salad out of the zone, Rapp suggested placing its bowl into a larger, ice-filled container to keep it cold. The ice should reach the lip of the bowl of food.

If you’re not one to travel with ice, or containers, follow the four-hour rule. Food should remain in the danger zone – preparation and transportation times included – for no longer than four hours. After that, throw it out.

Keep beach-loving kids in sight, in the water and out.

Depending on the weather, a couple of extra lifeguards likely will be watching over Fourth of July celebrants at Coeur d’Alene’s City Park, said Steve Anthony, the city’s recreation director.

A 6-year-old boy drowned in about 6 feet of water during the park’s Independence Day events in 1991.

“If your kids aren’t strong swimmers, keep an eye on them, because there are so many people out there, and the young ones get bumped around,” Anthony said.

If history is a guide, the lifeguards will be providing more “assists” on the Fourth, he said – using paddleboards to pick up tired swimmers, for example. They’ll also see people who jump off the steps at Independence Point into shallow water.

“We see more crazy people,” Anthony said.

Mostly, though, police and other officials at the beach spend much of the Fourth reuniting families.

“What we deal with a lot on the Fourth of July is lost kids,” Anthony said. “It just gets so busy down there, and kids tend to wander off.”

Char is for food, not for people.

Pilot lights are usually the first parts to fail on gas grills, said Mark Steinmetz, a 20-year kitchen veteran at Clinkerdagger’s. Perhaps surprisingly, this can lead to backyard fireballs.

Here’s what happens: You turn on the gas and the pilot, find that the pilot doesn’t light, wander around awhile tracking down a match, attempt to light the grill, and, as Steinmetz said, “it makes a really big ‘whoof.’ ”

You neglected to turn off the fuel and vent the gas – lift the lid and let it dissipate – before striking the match. 

With charcoal grills, risk lies in lighter fluid. While most charcoal comes with lighter fluid imbedded, Steinmetz said, many grill operators like to add their own. Just in case.

That’s fine, Steinmetz said. But do it before lighting the charcoal: “That’s the way you get burnt, by adding highly flammable gas to something that’s burning.”

When every day is sun day …

The best way to avoid skin cancer-causing sun damage is to stay out of it, according to the American Cancer Society, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

But if you can’t resist, the society offers these skin-protection advice:

• Wear a shirt. Tightly woven fabric protects you best.

• Wear a hat. A wide brim will provide shade for your face, ears and neck, the society notes.

• Choose sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or higher. Reapply it every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Also today

Here’s another tip: Hands-only CPR – no mouth-to-mouth required – can save lives, and you can learn it online or on your phone. Page C3

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