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Holiday Hazards From Undercooked Meat To Drunken Drivers, There Are More Ways To Get Hurt On July Fourth

Be careful out there.

If the odds hold up, this weekend will be among the most dangerous of the year, with plenty of chances to get sick, smashed up or blown up.

Undercooked hamburgers, potato salad turning yellow in the heat, fireworks in the face, drunks on the road. They all add up to make the Fourth of July a barnburner for illness and accidents.

“I’m just dreading it,” said Lori Taylor, manager of trauma services at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Medical Center, “because it is a three-day weekend and it’s supposed to be nice. I’m certain it will be busy.”

But in keeping with the holiday’s theme of independence, many Americans wouldn’t have it any other way. In spite of constant warnings, they still like pink meat, bottle rockets and one for the road, seat belts be damned.

More than any other day, July Fourth is the national day of celebration for “T types” - risk-loving individualists identified by Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association.

“They are the closest we have to the Founding Fathers psychologically,” he said. “So it’s a very fitting day for them to do their thing. And one just keeps fingers crossed in the hope that they don’t hurt themselves or hurt others.”

Good times can indeed take their toll.

Last year, a Spokane man was killed and another injured in a fire believed to have been caused by a bottle rocket. The city tallied three other fireworks-related injuries, according to the Fire Department.

In Coeur d’Alene, a man was stabbed, a cop was punched and a drunken driver nearly plowed into a crowd. An airplane pilot was killed while doing stunts over St. Maries in his four-seater.

Two years ago, a woman was hospitalized after she was sent flying by a runaway boat that roared onto North Idaho College Beach in Coeur d’Alene.

Then there’s the usual assortment of auto accidents.

The weekend of the Fourth is among the most dangerous times to be on the road, killing more people nationally in alcohol-related crashes than any other holiday.

Of the 187 injury accidents on Washington’s federal and state highways during last year’s holiday period, more than two-thirds involved alcohol.

The same is true in Idaho.

In the past three years, alcohol contributed to only one fatal accident on New Year’s Day, the day most people worry about drunken drivers. But drinking was involved in eight fatal accidents on Independence Day those same years.

“It’s like a snapshot of our traffic problem amplified a little bit,” said Jonna Van Dyk, spokesperson for the Washington state Traffic Safety Commission. “You see the same thing you see any year. It’s just the amps are turned up.”

Fireworks injuries are less common, but the cavalier approach to them isn’t.

“The thing is, most of the time you get away with it,” said Fred Rivara, a pediatrician and director of the Harborview Injury Prevention Center in Seattle.

Typically, Rivara will see as many as 10 people, mostly children, around the Fourth each year for fireworks injuries that range from minor burns to the amputation he was tending to just this week.

Safety experts say people are less likely to worry about things they control, suspecting instead the more bizarre and unusual.

“They look to really dramatic, impactful losses,” said James Walsh, author of “True Odds: How Risk Affects Your Everyday Life” (Merritt Publishing, 1996).

“It’s sort of hard-wired into how people think what danger is. The truth is the things that are most likely to hurt us are kind of hiding in plain sight. They’re very unsexy, undramatic kinds of injuries and losses.”

Consider the perils of home cooking, a major carrier of food-borne bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter jejuni. Washington state sees nearly 2,000 reports of illnesses involving these bacteria each year. The bulk of them breed in the summer as food is moved out of refrigerators to barbecues and sunny picnic tables.

But a persistent percentage of picnickers know no fear.

Researchers at Washington State University recently had 51 people fry hamburgers and found that five cooked them well below the recommended temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Four of the five did so intentionally, in spite of wellpublicized concerns about E. coli., said Jodi Trenda, a doctoral student in Food Science and Human Nutrition.

“They were willing to take on the risk of food-borne illness in order to eat the way they wanted,” Trenda said.

“I keep thinking of the Frank Sinatra song,” she added, referring to the anthem, “My Way.”

For these people, every day is Independence Day.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: July Fourth is the deadliest holiday


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