Many seek New Year safety gear
Straub Clinic passes out free respirator masks for those sensitive to smoke
As revelers light fireworks outside her Kapahulu home this New Year's Eve, Basha Pfeifer will have her windows shut tight, a respirator over her mouth and a telephone handy, just in case she needs to call 911.
"When you have asthma, it's really very dangerous," Pfeifer said as she waited in line yesterday at Ala Moana Center to get a free respirator mask courtesy of Straub Clinic & Hospital. "I'm really happy they're doing this."
More than 300 people snatched up the masks yesterday for themselves or loved ones.
The program's founder and chief of Straub's allergy and immunology department, Dr. Jeffrey Kam, said nearly 79,000 asthma patients in the islands -- including 25,000 children -- suffer every New Year's thanks to fireworks smoke.
Many are forced to seek immediate medical attention. In fact, Kam said, emergency room visits for those with respiratory complaints have peaked on New Year's Eve in the islands since 2000 -- when doctors first started tracking the statistic.
"For them the fireworks smell is almost like breathing Clorox bleach," he said. "We want to have fun, yet we forgot the people who have breathing difficulties."
At Ala Moana yesterday, Mattie Kamoko was in line to pick up four breathing masks for her grandchildren, who have asthma. She said the kids -- ages 9, 5, 4 and 2 -- have to be watched closely on New Year's Eve for signs of a reaction to the smoke.
"We don't like fireworks," she said with a laugh.
Kam said he is especially worried this year for asthma sufferers, given that the weather forecast calls for no rain and light winds on New Year's Eve.
Also, fireworks sales appear to be slightly up from last year. The Honolulu Fire Department reports that 10,351 fireworks permits had been sold on Oahu by Wednesday -- up by 12 permits from the same day in 2004.
"It's going to be extra-smoky this year," fire spokesman Kenison Tejada said.
There also have been no heavy rains in recent weeks, which means the ground will likely be dry on New Year's Eve. Tejada said homeowners should wet their roofs and the grass around their homes to decrease the chances of fireworks starting a fire.
He also said combustibles should be stored away from where fireworks are being set off, and residents should check the area around their homes several times on New Year's Eve to make sure no stray fireworks are smoldering or sparking.
The city is also urging residents to use extra caution when handling fireworks. Last New Year's Eve, 115 people in Hawaii suffered a fireworks-related injury -- double the total for the previous year. Children under 14 accounted for half of those injured.
"Injuries from fireworks can have devastating and long-term effects," said Emergency Medical Services Chief Patty Dukes in a news release issued yesterday.