Preparing for most critical day of summer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Grilling. Sitting poolside. Watching fireworks.

These enjoyable activities are part of the Independence Day tradition.

Unfortunately, with these customs comes increased risk and hazards, making the Fourth of July one of the most critical days of summer safety.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Fourth of July continuously tops the list of deadliest U.S. holidays. This year is no different with the National Safety Council estimating more than 370 deaths and 36,300 serious injuries to occur during the holiday weekend.

To help curb these statistics, the U.S. Army and Air Force designate May 25 through Sept. 4 of every year as the "Critical Days of Summer," a campaign dedicated to ensuring Soldiers and Airmen have a safe summer.

Because Independence Day falls during this period, it is imperative forĀ Service members takes safety precautions, said Senior Airman Maegann Bartolome, 633rd Air Base Wing Safety Office ground safety technician.

"The majority of the year's accidents happen during the summer," saidĀ  Bartolome. "Weather, gatherings, water sports and increased traffic flow are a few of the contributing factors for summertime incidents."

A leading source of Fourth of July injuries comes from the most common Independence Day tradition. Fireworks cause an average 22,500 fires and 7,000 injuries yearly, and the risk of injury is highest for children ages five through 19, according to the NSC.

Although legal in some states, fireworks are strictly limited in the state of Virginia. Only sparklers, fountains, wheels, strobe and novelty fireworks are legal without a permit. Breaking these laws carries a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and possibly one year in jail.

For those who live in on-base housing, fireworks, to include sparklers, are not authorized for use. For those that live in privatized housing, exercise proper safety precautions and always have adult supervision, said Bartolome.

As one of the largest risk factors during the Fourth of July weekend, impaired driving and other automobile accidents claim the lives approximately 148 people each holiday season, according to the NSC. Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol contribute to more than 65 percent of these fatalities.

While impaired driving is the most well-known motor-vehicle risk, using watercraft while under the influence is also highly dangerous. Nearly 57 percent of boating accidents can be attributed to operator error, causing 651 deaths and 3,000 injuries, and totaling more than $38 million in damages in 2012 alone. More than 3,800 people perish each year from water and watercraft-related incidents, equaling a death every two and a half hours, according the U.S. Coast Guard.

"A great deal of summertime injuries can be avoided," she said. "It's important to have a backup plan - and a backup plan for your backup plan."

One in five yearly water-related deaths are children under the age of 14. While on the beach or by the pool, it is paramount to employ safe habits while swimming, according to the Coast Gaurd. Teach children water safety tips and keep a close eye on them while near water.

While swimming, be sure to use properly approved flotation devices. The chance of drowning while not wearing a life jacket is one in 11, but when wearing a flotation device, the odds plummet to one in every 66, according to the Coast Guard.

With the traditional cookouts and parties, the Fourth of July brings one of the most overlooked holiday hazards. In a four-year span, fire departments have responded to nearly 8,000 home fires caused by barbeque grills, ultimately leading to nearly 40 deaths.

Before grilling, ensure the grill is free of any debris, and has a 10-foot clearing from anything combustible. While cooking, keep a 3-foot perimeter for children and pets. When finished, continue to watch the grill until it is cool. Temperatures emanating from the grill could still be hot enough to ignite any nearby combustibles.

"When celebrating, it may be easy to forget to be aware of what is around you," said Bartolome. "While letting loose, it is easy for bad things to happen."

While enjoying the long weekend and celebrating America's independence, Bartolome encourages Service members to stay informed and always have a plan.

"Even minor safety tips are live saving," said Bartolome. "No one is above safety. It can affect everyone around you, and it's up to all of us to make this a fun, safe summer."