South Bay man severely injured by wayward fireworks speaks out to prevent future disasters

South Bay man severely injured by wayward fireworks speaks out to prevent future disasters

SAN JOSE — A South Bay man who suffered severe burn injuries to his legs alongside his wife and a friend while passing by an illegal fireworks display on the Fourth of July is speaking publicly about his experience, to call out the people responsible and warn others about steering clear of these amateur exhibitions.

The injured man, who agreed to be photographed at his bed at the Valley Medical Center burn unit but asked that his name not be used, recalled being outdoors in Alviso about an hour before midnight when he and his dinner companions saw a group of people setting off fireworks in the street.

Illegal fireworks are set off during the Fourth of July in Alviso. The makeshift crate holding the fireworks tipped over, injuring a South Bay man who suffered severe burn injuries to his legs alongside his wife and a friend. He is speaking publicly about his experience to call out the people responsible for his injuries and warn others about steering clear of these amateur exhibitions. (YouTube) 

He recalled being about 10 yards away from the spot when, in a flash instance his friend captured on video, the crate of high-powered fireworks tipped over and sent rockets hurtling toward him. Before he could react, he said he was on the ground with severe burns on his legs and huge patches of missing skin, and saw his wife and a woman they were with suffering similar injuries.

“We started to go on the side and pass it and just walk away,” the man said. “And then in one second, that was it. We were on the floor, burned. Our skin was falling from our legs.”

In the face of their obvious injuries, he remembered that the fireworks didn’t stop going off. And when they asked for someone in the crowded sidewalk to call for help, he said he and his injured companions were discouraged from calling 911.

They did anyway, and while his friend was taken away by ambulance, he said he and his wife drove themselves to get to a hospital. He is currently being treated for second and third-degree burns on his right arm and both legs. He is expected to receive skin grafts to help treat his injuries.

The man’s story recalls one of several high-profile injuries that the burn unit has seen since the days leading up to the Fourth of July, said Dr. Clifford Sheckter, director of the regional burn center at Valley Medical Center. That includes one man who was reportedly disfigured after a firework exploded in his face, and another man who lost his testicles in a fireworks-related accident.

Sheckter said he expected upwards of 100 burn patients — mostly adults — from the holiday stretch. The figures are in flux, he said, because people have been appearing over the course of several days depending on when they decided to get medical help.

“Unfortunately, our attempts at preventing these injuries has not been successful this year. We’ve had one of the worst years for these types of accidents,” Sheckter said. “I would hope that with these types of consequences that people understand the gravity of what’s going on.”

The man injured in the Alviso fireworks accident said he was speaking out to to tell the public to learn from his experience and stay away from amateur fireworks exhibitions. He said the side of the street that he was standing on was sparsely populated, but that the opposite sidewalk had nearly 70 people.

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“This thing could have gone the other way,” he said, referring to the direction the fireworks crate tipped. “There was probably a risk of injuring 20 people easily.”

He also voiced frustration with the response to the moment when he and his group were seriously injured, recalling that the revelry continued and that their plight was by and large treated like a disruption to the festivities.

“It was just unbelievable to me,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious we could not go home and just clean this thing with water. The skin was removed.”

The man, who hails from France and has lived in the Bay Area for two decades, said he was surprised by the availability of powerful fireworks to the general public, legal or otherwise.

“When you look at these fireworks, you would expect that this is going to be dangerous because it’s going to fall on a house and it’s going to catch fire, but you don’t think about this,” he said. “And honestly how fast it happens.”