Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Annual Post-Fourth Roundup

As I do every year, it’s time for my annual Post Fourth of July Roundup. Why do I do this? Because every year I see a lot of people who have absolutely no business dicking around with fireworks doing so.

I live in a state where fireworks are legal, and sold in stores statewide all year long. In my town of just about 6500 people, I have two or three large, permanent stores damn near the size of a Dollar General that sell pyro to anyone and everyone who can fog a mirror and wave a dollar bill. And for the two weeks prior to the Fourth, roadside stands made from semi-trailer cargo containers pop up like weeds. Nothing says HOLIDAYS like buying explosives from a ramshackle hut staffed by what looks to be retired carnival workers like some Beirut arms bazaar.

Right here in my town....and yeah, they have a website no less.

I grew up in states where the most you could get was maybe a few firecrackers and some sparklers, and even then it was only around the Fourth. Here in SC, it’s common to buy them all year long, but most especially at July 4th and New Year’s. Instead of a few whoops and cheers, or maybe banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan to make noise to ring in the new year, my neighbors fire off a barrage of explosives that make my neighborhood look like Baghdad on opening night of Desert Storm. And then they continue to do so…all night…and for a few nights thereafter, causing my dogs endless grief.

When I was stationed in Kansas, about a week to ten days prior to the Fourth, we’d see the stands spring up like mushrooms after a rain, and we did what bored 21-year old kids with extra money did: we bought assloads of fireworks and whatever we didn’t fire off on the holiday we shot off, usually at each other and oft times down the hallways of the barracks. It was nothing for us to toss a lit brick of firecrackers under a guy’s door at 3AM for shits & giggles. Mature, responsible military policemen indeed.

Anyways, I guess I feel guilty for having been so reckless with stuff that’d blow off fingers with ease, and so every year I bring a little attention to the dangers of the pretty things that go boom.

In Ocracoke, NC, four workers unloading fireworks in preparation for that night’s show were killed when the whole shebang exploded at once. Dock master Robert Raborn noticed the workers unloading the truck from the Anchorage Marina about 200 yards away. He heard the explosion, which he described as one of the loudest things he has ever heard, then turned to see what happened.

"It was like 40 minutes worth of fireworks going off in four seconds," Raborn said.

In Youngstown, Ohio, Mercer County dispatchers reported that emergency workers took one person to the hospital by helicopter from a fireworks accident that occurred a little before 11 p.m. Saturday. The accident also caused the house where the accident took place to catch on fire, a dispatcher said. No other information was available.

In Quakertown, Pennsylvania, a man was killed Saturday after an accident during a fireworks show at the town’s Memorial Park. Police Chief Scott McElree said "some kind of explosion" occurred as the show’s grand finale was starting and authorities immediately halted the show and evacuated part of the park. The 40-year-old man was taken to St. Luke's Hospital with head injuries, officials said. The man was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after the blast.

In Arthur, Illinois, some people attending a large fireworks display on Saturday night suffered minor burns when a shell misfired, Arthur fireworks commissioner Mark Jones said Monday.

Now, those accidents are bad enough, and they involved professionals who are used to handling pyro daily. The ones that really cause me to shake my head are the ones involving rank amateurs or kids doing dumb shit. Leave the fireworks to professionals…jeez.

In Bennettsville, North Carolina, two kids were burned when their father was lighting off a home-grown display when one of the rockets misfired towards the house, landing in a BUCKET of fireworks on the porch. Kids were on said porch. The six-year old girl has second-degree burns, and her four got a minor burn on his shoulder. Both are recovering at the Augusta Burn Center in Georgia.\
And worse still, right here in South Carolina, fifteen year old Ryan Stancell has lost his hand and most likely have to have both legs amputated after a fireworks accident Thursday night.

He is currently at Greenville Memorial Hospital with severe burns on his chest and will need skin grafts, according to his mother. She said they do think he will survive.

Neighbor Perry Oakley said he felt the shock inside his house when the explosive went off, and ran to help.

“I was completely shocked out, “said Oakley. “There was a nurse at the end of the road and if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what the kid would have done. She got us to take our belts off and create tourniquets for him. “

Oakley said even more shocking, the explosion was caused by sparklers.
“It was a sparkler. Those are $.25 a box and most people would never think that would cause the damage that it was capable of, “said Oakley.

The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office said there were possibly more than 100 sparklers gathered together, creating what’s called a sparkler bomb. It creates tremendous explosive power, according to the Anderson County Fire Chief.
“Anytime you alter a firework and use it for anything it’s not supposed to be used for, it’s a recipe for disaster. “

The fire chief says the investigation is still open and charges could be filed, because it is against the law to alter an explosive device. He says the boy was with a 21 year old at the time, and reports say that it was the adult, not the fifteen-year old, who actually lit off the device. Stancell realized the danger and was trying to extinguish the blaze when it exploded.

I checked a couple different sources and have read 100 sparklers, 144 sparklers, and up to 500 sparklers were taped together to make this redneck clusterbomb. Regardless, that’s just insane. What sort of imbecile straps a couple hundred sticks together of something whose sole purpose is to BURN, very hot and very fast, like nothing’s gonna happen?

As is usually the case, the innocent party is also the injured party. My heart goes out to those injured this year.

Look….even trained professionals can have disasters happen on their watch. The vast majority of you are not trained professionals. Many of you should not be allowed near fireworks, and some of you shouldn’t even be allowed near a book of matches. What’s worse, the frikkin’ Web is full, and I mean FULL, of instructional videos and pictures of how to make sparkler bombs.

Oh yeah, THAT looks safe. A fool and his fingers are soon parted...

Don’t end up being featured by me next year in my 2010 roundup…


Anonymous said...

Steve, love the pics, especially the first couple. Hope you had a great Independence Day and that all your fingers are still attached...

Brooke said...

Here in southwest Ohio we must go to Indiana to get decent fireworks.

I hope you had an explosive Fourth! :)

WomanHonorThyself said...

A fool and his fingers are soon parted.....ha good post!

Krystal said...

"What sort of imbecile straps a couple hundred sticks together of something whose sole purpose is to BURN, very hot and very fast, like nothing’s gonna happen?"

I beleive you answered that for imbecile.

We were at my sister's watching the fireworks they do out front. One of the larger one fell over and started shooting at us. My youngest son, then 8, was hit; another woman had some of her hair singed; another man had a burn hole in his shirt.

When it happened all of the adults grabbed the children and covered them. Better us than them.

Realize that my brother-in-law is well experienced with fireworks and had taken all of the precautions. The firework itself misfired causing it to tip in the first place.

People do NOT realize how dangerous they an be.

Of course, my favorite people are the idiots who set off bottle rockets...during a drought...