Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 4th Fireworks

Washington, NJ  7/4/05        (photo/Jan Barry)

I’ve enjoyed July 4th fireworks in many places over the years, from a tiny coastal town in Maine to New York City extravaganzas. But for some reason, I flinched more than usual this year, sitting in a lawn chair in a neighborhood park watching the vibrant, earth-shaking airbursts that delighted the crowd of local families.

Checking Facebook later, I found I was scarcely alone in feeling jumpy amid one of America’s favorite celebrations.

“This was the worst 4th of July yet,” an Iraq war veteran wrote,” and before you knew it, we got caught in early fireworks from one of the parks over the hill. The new dog, Moxie was terrified. BOO was freaked out too, I realized I was able to shelter him from fireworks his whole life except this year. I was jumping out of my skin even with the ear plugs in…”

On the Warrior Writers site, this message popped up: “I am celebrating this 4th of July by returning to Afghanistan. My mind is on edge and I can't sit still. This anxiety from the pop pop pops of fire crackers and booms of fireworks. Every sudden shot makes me jump…”

A Vietnam vet replied:  “Bro, I've jumped twice tonight in my house from the sound of fireworks…”

Besides outbursts by vets on Facebook, some thoughtful news providers alerted the public to this issue.

“Fourth of July is one of the loudest holiday celebrations of the year. As many of us prepare to celebrate the patriotic holiday, many veterans are preparing for the worst. Something as innocent as a fireworks display can trigger painful memories of the past,” KOLO television in Reno, Nevada reported on July 3.

“The explosive pops and booms of colors usually indicate a celebration, but they send army veteran, Michael Wells' heart racing. ‘You hear that boom boom and you're back in combat mode and freaking out,’ he said.”

And it’s not just the big official fireworks displays that unsettle many vets.  “My neighbor just started lighting up fireworks, the boom, boom, boom, I was freaked out for over an hour," Wells said. "I was shaking and couldn't really get back into it cause you know I was right there and it was so loud. When we got hit with mortars that's what it took me back to."

A public health doctor at George Washington University posted a Science Blog with suggestions on what folks who want to celebrate with fireworks can do to minimize the impact on neighbors who served in war zones.

“The National Fire Protection Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ teamed up to form the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks. They argue that fireworks displays should be organized and managed by trained professionals, not neighborhood fire bugs,” wrote Dr. Celeste Monforton. “… For veterans and others suffering from PTSD, a ban on consumer fireworks would provide some relief.  They wouldn’t have to dread and suffer the consequences of impromptu blasts of fireworks in their neighborhoods, while taking steps to avoid the noise from their town’s scheduled public fireworks displays.”

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