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Don’t Shoot Your Eye Out

June 29, 2011

I’m sure my sons loathed having a firefighter as a father when Independence Day rolled around each year. Yes, I’m a self-professed, proverbial “stick in the mud” when it comes to shooting fireworks. I also understand I could be a bit biased on the matter. And, for that reason I don’t expect everyone – or many at all – to agree with me on this matter. But, I wouldn’t be properly fulfilling my role as a Fire Chief, if I didn’t say a few words about fireworks safety – beginning with a story.

This story took place on a beautiful sunny day about 22 years ago today.

A group of young teens were at Milford State Lake getting geared up for a fun holiday weekend. Adding to the fun, one of the boys had brought his parent’s rag top Jeep.

Like most young people – and some older folks too – the boys hadn’t done much preplanning. They had forgotten to stock up on food and drinks. So, they decided to make a run to the convenience store. On that trip they drove by a firework stand.

Plenty of beverages and munchies were bought and placed into the Jeep (the top was up). On their way back to the campsite they decided to check out the prices at the firework stand. The prices were incredible. They were able to purchase enough pyrotechnics to put on a small town public display.

The Jeep was carefully packed – boys, beverages, munchies, and fireworks.

One of the boys – in the front passenger’s seat – was smoking a cigarette as they made their way back to the campsite. The boys talked and laughed as the cigarette burned towards the butt. Then, the smoker flicked the butt – towards the open window. Only, the butt hit the wind and made a quick U-turn – right into the back seat area – unbeknownst to anyone.

The popping of a large flat of Black Cats was official notice that the friends had a problem. For a moment the driver thought it was just a prank and kept driving. But, the first flat of fireworks progressed to another, and another, and another. Before the Jeep could be stopped the entire arsenal was exploding. And the Jeep was on fire.

All the boys were taken to a local hospital by ambulance. Two were transferred on to the St. Francis burn unit in Wichita. All the boys survived. But, celebrating July 4th – for them – was forever changed.

So, there’s the story. I could tell others – all true accounts of tragedy tied to fireworks. But, I don’t want to belabor my message. Furthermore, I’m not an advocate of sheltering ourselves – or our loved ones – from every risk in life. To do so would make for a very bland, boring, life. What I do advocate is to take prudent precautions when one is living life on the edge.

You’ve all read the bullet point lists of firework dos and don’ts, so I won’t regurgitate them. My message is simple. “Use common sense.”

Have a fun, safe Independence Day – and God Bless America!

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