A Fire-Free Fourth
STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER STAUDER
Joint Force Headquarters
New Hampshire Army National Guard
Concord, New Hampshire
My wife says people can be summed up into two categories: those who err on the side of caution and sound judgment (her), and the accident prone (of course, me). Seeing me in short sleeves provides all the evidence needed to support her hypothesis.
Those of sound judgment and appropriate caution could be argued as believing in the concepts of risk management and its subsequent application. The accident prone, on the other hand, find themselves emulating risk management to satisfy the requirements of my wife — I mean, their command. It wasn’t until I was transferred into a safety specialist position within the New Hampshire Army National Guard that I began to understand the importance of not just satisfying requirements, but believing in the concepts of safety both on and off duty. More truthfully, though, it probably happened when I set fire to the woods behind my house.
We were hosting a get together at our home that stretched into the evening. As many young men often do, I felt inclined to introduce fireworks into the festivities. The instructions on the thick cardboard mortar tube were quite clear: When placing the charge into the tube, ensure it is secured to the ground; and never place more than one charge in the tube at a time.
I’d set off this type of firework in the past and, in retrospect, had become complacent. I’d also fired multiple charges simultaneously from the same tube, which made me confident in my ability to perform this task. This time, however, I made a decision that introduced unnecessary risk. I did not secure the tube’s base to the ground. But why would I? I’d never had a problem with a tube shifting or falling over in the past.
After the first charge lifted off, I watched in abject horror as the tube fell over with the second charge still inside, fuse burning. When it fired, the round headed straight toward the woods, perfectly parallel with the lawn. The first charge illuminated the night just before the second exploded about 100 feet away on top of a blanket of dried leaves.
I sprinted toward the woods, contemplating my imminent stint in jail for starting a mass wildfire and whether I would survive the ensuing encounter with my wife and mother. I don’t know how, but I managed to traverse a creek in a single bound and arrived at the first of six spreading fires. I stomped each one into what I felt was submission before moving on to the next.
As I stamped out the last fire, my body shaking with adrenaline, I allowed myself a smug and triumphant moment, patting myself on my back for handling the situation like a true professional. I was brought back to reality by the sound of a fire extinguisher. Anticipating my accident-prone nature, my wife had grabbed our fire extinguisher the moment she discovered I would be using fireworks. It would be nice to say I put out the fires single-handedly, but it was my wife — the type of person who believes in safety — who made the difference that evening.
Following this close call, I realized safety is more than a metrics system or check-the-block mentality. That type of safety is the emulation of a belief. It does not give us pause to explore potentialities, only satisfy the requirements of our respective 6s, whether they be military or household. Safety is the absolute understanding of intended and unintended consequences that generates a true belief in the constant application of risk management to on- and off-duty activities. A few minutes of safety could be what saves you from a couple years in prison for arson. Well, that and an exceptional wife.
To help you celebrate safely this Fourth of July, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Council on Fireworks Safety offer the following safety tips:
- Always read and follow label directions.
- Have an adult present.
- Buy from reliable sellers.
- Use outdoors only.
- Always have water handy (a garden hose and a bucket).
- Never experiment or make your own fireworks.
- Light only one firework at a time.
- Never re-light a "dud" firework (wait 15 to 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water).
- Never give fireworks to small children.
- If necessary, store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
- Dispose of fireworks properly by soaking them in water and then disposing of them in your trash can.
- Never throw or point fireworks at other people.
- Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
- Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
- The shooter should always wear eye protection and never have any part of the body over the firework.
- Stay away from illegal explosives.