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White Plains Hospital ER Chief Offers Fourth Of July Safety Tips

Dr. Rafael Torres
Dr. Rafael Torres Photo Credit: Provided

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- If you’re not careful this Fourth of July, the hot dogs might not be the only thing at your backyard picnic that gets burned, says Dr. Rafael Torres.

Holidays are always busy times for local emergency rooms, but none seem as packed with potential dangers as Independence Day with its combination of fireworks, heat and alcohol, says Torres, medical director of White Plains Hospital's Emergency Department.

Now -- for the first time in decades -- some small fireworks are now legal to purchase and use in parts of New York. (Sparkling devices are legal in Putnam but not in Westchester.)

It’s still a better idea, Torres says, to let the professionals handle the fireworks displays – especially if children are at the party. Besides burns, serious hand and eye injuries can occur.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, intoxicated drivers make July Fourth the deadliest day to be on the road. Obviously, don’t drink and drive. But even if you’re not driving, drinking can cause problems. Alcohol is a diuretic, Torres says, advising revelers to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Something as innocent as potato salad can also spark a trip to the emergency room, Torres says. Cool foods need to stay cool and hot foods need to stay hot. The recommended minimum safe cooking temperatures for ground meat is 160 degrees; for poultry, it’s 165 degrees.

Food poisoning symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. If you are unable to drink anything to stay hydrated, you probably should head to the emergency room, he says.

The very young and the very old are more susceptible to dehydration.

When firing up those barbecues, exercise common sense. Never grill indoors or in an enclosed area. Use lighter fluid sparingly and never add it to coals that are already ignited. Don’t leave grills unattended and make sure children stay a safe distance away. If you do get burned, Torres advises running the wound under cold water for 10-15 minutes. However, if it blisters, or involved your hands or face, you may need to get medical attention.

A good time splashing in the water can also turn into a tragedy. When swimming at a public pool or beach, always swim in areas where there is a lifeguard on duty. When at the beach, look for posted signs alerting swimmers to rip tides, and if you should find yourself caught in one, swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of the rip tide and can swim safely back to shore. Have a backyard pool? Keep an eagle eye on children and have flotation devices and a first-aid kit on hand for bumps and bruises.

And while you’re basking by the pool, slather on that sunscreen. Should you still get burned, stay hydrated and use home remedies like aloe vera and over-the-counter pain relievers. Sometimes these burns can be extensive, so if you see any signs of blistering or infection, seek medical help, Torres says.

For more information about White Plains Hospital, visit

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