Annually, thousands of fireworks-related injuries are treated in emergency rooms nationwide.
As Cape Coral residents celebrate the end of 2013 today, local emergency officials are encouraging people to leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals to ensure a safe and happy finale to the year.
"Every year, children and adults are injured with fireworks mishaps," Michael Heeder, of the Cape Coral Fire Department, said Monday. "That's the wrong way to celebrate the holiday."
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 9,600 fireworks-related injuries treated in hospitals in 2011. Of the victims, an estimated 26 percent were under the age of 15.
Men accounted for two-thirds - 68 percent - of the total fireworks injuries.
To reduce the risk of injury, Cape officials are suggesting an alternative to an at-home extravaganza. Heeder pointed to several professionally-conducted fireworks displays planned within the area.
"We are encouraging everyone to enjoy the New Year responsibly," he said.
Both Cape Harbour and The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village are holding New Year's Eve celebrations, complete with fireworks at midnight and live entertainment throughout the evening.
Events are also scheduled in downtown Fort Myers and on Fort Myers Beach.
For residents still determined to put on their own show at home, officials noted that fireworks that explode or launch into the air are illegal in the state of Florida, including Cape Coral.
"Fireworks that leave the ground or explode are not legal for residential or recreational use," Heeder said. "Even though people will sign a release - that is strictly for agricultural uses."
The agricultural exemption that people likely sign when buying fireworks from a retailer is not appropriate if the fireworks are used in an improper zoning area, like a residential neighborhood.
Only purchase fireworks approved by the Florida State Fire Marshall.
Heeder cited sparklers and the fountain-style kind as two examples of legal fireworks.
"Anything that remains on the ground," he said.
Residents using fireworks at home should follow some basic steps to help prevent injuries.
"For us, it's the big three," Heeder said.
There should always be adult supervision on hand, and children should never handle fireworks, even sparklers, on their own. He explained that sparklers create a significant burn hazard for children.
Also, a child could start a fire if a sparkler is put near dry grass or some other combustable material.
From 2007 to 2011, outdoor fires associated with fireworks involved grass fires, at approximately 6,800 per year; brush fires, at an estimated 4,500 per year; and unclassified or unknown-type natural and vegetation fires, at about 1,300 per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
"Always have a water source nearby, a garden hose or bucket of water," Heeder said.
Once a firework is used, it should be placed in the bucket of water or doused with water from the hose to prevent any fires. Fireworks going into the bucket should first be allowed to cool down.
"Make sure any fireworks, regardless of type, are utilized away from any structure," he said.
Using fireworks near a building or a home can increase their risk of catching on fire.
In 2011, an estimated 17,800 reported fires were started by fireworks. The National Fire Protection Association reported that the fires resulted in an estimated 40 injuries and $32 million in damage.
In addition to the "big three," Heeder recommended celebrants avoid certain clothing.
Make sure that you are not wearing any type of loose-fitting clothing that could catch in fire," he said. "Anything that could catch fire easily when exposed to a spark."
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 61 percent of the fireworks injuries in 2011 were to extremities - hand or finger, 46 percent; leg, 11 percent; or arm, shoulder or wrist, 4 percent. The remaining fireworks injuries - 34 percent - were to parts of the head, including the eye area.
As New Year's wraps up the holiday season, candle safety is also a concern. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are two of the top days for home candle fires, along with Christmas and Halloween.
"A lot of people will use candles during the holiday season," Heeder said.
On average, a candle fire in the home is reported every 34 minutes, the National Fire Protection Association reported. Thirty-eight percent of the home candle fires recorded started in the bedroom, and more than half of all candle fires start when things that can burn are too close to the candle.
"Candles are just like any other open fire," he said. "These fires can quickly spread."
Heeder offered the following safety tips when using candles:
n Blow out all candles when you leave a room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candled in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.
n Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
n Use candle holders on a study uncluttered surface.
He also suggested that people consider flameless candles as an alternative to the real thing.
"Flameless candles are an excellent way to enjoy the ambiance without the danger," Heeder said.