MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - As the Fourth of July weekend begins, firefighters and hospitals brace for potential injuries blamed on fireworks.
The biggest message the Department of Public Safety wants to get across is fireworks can be dangerous, whether they are legal in Minnesota, like sparklers, or illegal, which includes basically any firework that leaves the ground.
Nick Beheng says despite setting off fireworks since he was a kid, he made a mistake and is still suffering the consequences.
“This is what I call my thub,” he said, while pointing to the digit, shortened by his firecracker injury in 2012.
But losing part of his thumb, while setting off an illegal firecracker, was the least of his worries.
“So I was holding the mortar kind of up in the air [above my head],” said Beheng. “By the time I realized I had it upside down and tried to throw it, it exploded in the tube, shot through. Took my thumb off, hit my chest, took a chunk of my heart, and collapsed a lung.”
Part of the charge also got lodged in his liver. Beheng spent the next month in intensive care and the burn unit at Regions Hospital.
“Half an inch in toward the center portion of his heart and he would not be here,” said Dr. William Mohr, Regions Hospital Burn Surgeon.
Beheng shared his story with the Department of Public Safety, knowing plenty of people this weekend are doing exactly what he did - crossing the border to Wisconsin to buy fireworks that are illegal in Minnesota.
“The percentage of Minnesotans that come see our fireworks are probably between 90 and 95 percent of our customer base,” said Sean Sauter with Venture Fireworks.
Last year across Minnesota, there were 89 reported injuries due to fireworks, including 19 under the age of nine, and one fatality.
“Make sure you observe the five-foot rule that there is nobody within five feet of the child with the sparker and nothing that can ignite within five feet,” said Jim Smith, Deputy State Fire Marshal.
Beheng believes especially if alcohol is involved, fireworks should be treated like a loaded gun. Even for those experienced at handling them, it only takes a simple mistake to turn a celebration into tragedy.
“Coming here I'm not looking for sympathy, I want to save someone from doing to themselves what I did to myself,” said Beheng.