DENVER -- As state officials are cautioning everyone about the risk of wildfire from fireworks this Independence Day, there's still the risk of severe injuries.
Every July 4th thousands of people, mostly children, are injured while using fireworks, but one Colorado Springs man is making it his mission to prevent those tragedies, after his own nightmare.
For the past six years Rai Henniger, has served as a walking reminder of what can go wrong.
Henniger started working in the front office for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball organization back in the early 1990’s.
In an effort to enhance the experience for fans, the team decided to put on fireworks shows, but needed a technician that could handle a professional show. Henniger volunteered, and became certified.
By his count, he’d done 990 flawless shows before May 12, 2007. "One of them launched out of the mortar, and right into my face." A shell the size of a baseball hit Henniger with extreme force. Henniger says, “I landed 15 feet away. There's no reason I should be alive at all."
Henniger's family was told he had a one percent chance of surviving. His nose was gone, along with his left eye, and his face was shattered.
Scars now line his face from 20 reconstructive surgeries, which gave him a new nose from skin on his forehead.
But he also has a new mission. Warning people about the dangers of consumer fireworks. "The gift in my accident is that I can give that message to people… I'm a visual reminder of what can happen."
According to a 2011 study by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, in the month around July 4, an average of 200 people went to emergency rooms every day with fireworks-related injuries.
Henniger says that’s because there’s too many negative variables with fireworks in neighborhoods. “The average person who thinks they’re putting on a little show in the cul-de-sac, they’re having a few beers, they’re trying something new, they want to do something spectacular, and that leads to problems.”
Henniger, who now has a prosthetic left eye says his own eye doctor sees numerous eye injuries every year from fireworks mishaps.
"The smart thing to do is just watch a show somewhere, and sit down, and enjoy a big display. Don’t put the show on yourself, too many things can go wrong and once they do, you can’t go back."
Aside from the dangers, fireworks are illegal across several cities and counties, so you’re not only facing the threat of severe injuries, but also fines, and even jail time.AlertMe