The Trauma of 4th of July Fireworks: Think Before You Shoot

The Trauma of 4th of July Fireworks: Think Before You Shoot

(First of all, spare me the “where the hell have you been for the last two months?” questions.  It’s been a tough few and I will update you all later.)

The topic of fireworks is always a tough one for me.  As a Veteran, it’s a difficult pass time to enjoy and it’s something I deal with twice a year every year.  And I am not alone.  My fellow Veterans stand by me in this love/hate relationship.  Fireworks are beautiful and especially for the 4th of July take on a special meaning to me and my brothers and sisters…however…they are always an extremely painful reminder of times of war, fear, anger, alertness and awareness. 

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me the experience of a firework takes me back to a difficult time and place.  It’s 2003, I am 20 again in Baghdad running to bunkers, jumping over sandbags, checking my battle buddies and waiting for the all clear.  I immediately feel panic and fear.  When fireworks deploy…there is a distinct sound of the firework leaving the tube…it’s a thump.  That sound is identical to the sound of mortars being deployed.  The loud and resounding boom you hear that generates those beautiful lines of color and light is identical to the sound of mortars hitting my compound and my home.  That jolt you feel in your body when the glittered fireworks spread arms stretched out…is the same jolt of bombs hitting the ground all around you.  The cheers of the crowd is similar to the yells of fellow soldiers calling for their team, shouting commands and guiding everyone to shelter.  It’s like I am naked…without cover…without shelter and I can’t distinguish the difference in Fireworks and war in that moment.  So what to do?

There was a situation in my apartment complex last week where some assholes…yes you’re assholes for this decision…decided it would be a great idea to detonate commercial grade fireworks over our apartment at 10pm…on a weeknight.  These assholes lived directly across the street.  The boom was the worst I have heard since I was deployed.  I tried to wait it out…but it wasn’t stopping and it was so close.  I walked outside to see if I could see what was going on and there were several neighbors out wondering what was going on.  It sounded like an attack.  Then another one went off and I ran in the house.  (Side note, running for cover is an instinct.  I’ve actually jumped under cars and behind people on several occasions during an unexpected show)  I noticed that I wasn’t the only one pissed and scared.  One family had two terrified children crying, another family was sleeping, another family was also a Veteran family and the husband was terrified and even more families had pets that wouldn’t come out of hiding.  We eventually called the police and they stopped, but it made me think that not only am I not the only person terrified of fireworks, but people may not really realize how much damage and fear they cause when participating in a home fireworks show.  I thought I would help educate you.

Tips for Safe and Respectful Home Fireworks

1.  Don’t do fireworks at home. 

     Sure it’s fun to DIY fireworks, but I can think of plenty of reasons not to but mostly, it’s not 100% safe and predictable.  You could seriously injure yourself or someone else.  (I had a pretty nasty burn from a sparkler as a kid…it happens) 

2.  Attend a professional community fireworks show.

     They are usually better anyways and you can almost always find them!  For the Greenville, SC readers…check out the Red, White and Blue Festival and the Redemption World Outreach Fireworks show at 10pm.

3.  If you must do them at home, plan a community show

     If you do want to do fireworks at home, be respectful of your neighbors.  Ask them how they feel about it.  If several of you want to do it, do it together with set times and areas so people can plan to go somewhere else and not be involved if it may bother them and their families.

4.  KNOW your “stress-ees”

     Find out what kind of complications you may cause by detonating fireworks at home.  Veterans?  Children?  Animals?  Be mindful that fireworks are not enjoyed by everyone.

5.  NEVER let children touch fireworks

     Keep your children at a safe distance and create a “viewing area” so they know where the boundaries are.

6.  Always have a bucket of water, hose or fire extinguisher handy and always open directions for deploying fireworks

7.  No drinking and fireworking

8.  Clean up after yourself

     In my old neighborhood, we had a family that did huge shows and left the trash in the middle of the road every year…until the year I picked it up and through it in their yard.  🙂

My Responsibility

As a soldier and someone afraid of fireworks, I also have a responsibility to be respectful.  I understand that not everyone shares my fear and do not expect people not to do it because of me.  I try to be mindful of others and so here are the things I vow to do.

1.  Not bother you as long as you are keeping the fireworks to the night before, the night of and the night after a holiday.  It’s not necessary to be blasting these things all week.

2.  To leave if I am uncomfortable.  I plan for 4th of July and New Years every year to ensure I am in a safe place for me.  I think I should be just as respectful of you as I hope you would be for me.

3.  I will make sure to protect my animals as much as I can from the sounds.

4.  I will not attend professional fireworks shows and have a complete meltdown in the middle of Liberty Bridge where there are tons of people and I can’t get out….ever again.

The Law

According to Greenville Cares and the Greenville Police Department on Twitter, it is NOT unlawful to discharge fireworks in our city/county.  However, it IS unlawful to discharge fireworks on private property AND in apartment complexes.  There is also a noise ordinance you should be familiar with.  Make sure that if you are going to call the police for a fireworks related non emergency, call your local police department and not 911.  Fire fighters respond to hundreds of calls on these nights and need to be available for real emergencies.  Please keep this in mind while planning your events.

Its unfortunate that something used to celebrate our independence can be so hurtful to some of us…but that doesn’t mean you should not be able to enjoy it.  I hope you will take these tips to heart and share them with you friends and family.  Many people do not realize the struggle…let’s pass the word!

What are your 4th of July plans?

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Just a 30 something southern girl living life as a “Fat Girl”. Learning to love and laugh more than ever and share the adventures that is her crazy existence! Blogging about dating, weight loss and acceptance, funny stories, quirky family, Greenville, SC and some fashion. Come hang out!

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20 comments on The Trauma of 4th of July Fireworks: Think Before You Shoot

  1. cduncan1983 says:

    Hey Courtney! I shared your post on my personal profile and I’ll also share it on my blog profile.

  2. Courtney,
    Thanks for sharing that. I was at Baghdad Int’l Airport in ’06. I know Vietnam vets with the same issues. Thankfully there have always been Americans and others who have been willing and able to raise their right hand to support and defend the Constitution so that we can continue to celebrate our Independence.
    Thankyou for your service,
    Chuck

    • Courtney says:

      Hey Chuck,

      Thanks for the kind words and your service as well. I spent many days at BIAP back in 03 so I know the area well. Hope you enjoy the 4th and thanks a lot for stopping by and reading!

  3. I was also Baghdad 2003 and know exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks for the post and really enjoy it.

  4. candy says:

    I agree with so.much of this. I enjoy fireworks but I truly would love for people to be respectful. My dog is traumatized twice a year. I know, she is a dog, but she is afraid and having to live with fireworks a week before and a week after the holiday is too much. At least if we know when to expect it, we can plan for it. Someone shot off the first firework of this holiday in my neighborhood today, juat as my dog was getting ready to go outside. Now she won’t go out for a week or more without being forced. I alwqys feel nlbad for her and plan ahead as mich as possible to protect her. I never thought about veterans having these reactions and I am glad you posted this.

  5. Jamie Bakis says:

    Courtney, first of all thank you for your sense of duty, loyalty, honor and above all unconditional patriotism. Your description paints a very clear picture of what is known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for those of you not familiar with it.) I have always been one to enjoy fireworks, especially on the 4th of July. We had a home at the beach for many years and this was a tradition for us for over 20 years. Your story and the vivid descriptions of the sounds and how they triggered your memory reminded me of a very dear friend of my family and how watching a movie once triggered a memory for him. Let me take that a step further, this man was always strong wise and fearless to me. He was watching the movie Forrest Gump, and when the scene of the ambush in the Vietnam jungle took place, he immediately had to get up and run out of the room. The look of fear, confusion, and hysteria was all over him. How could someone so strong and wise be reduced to this? He was exposed to something that I hope I never endure in my lifetime. It is because of people like you Courtney that we celebrate this day, a day of reckoning, a day of freedom from tyranny, and the freedom to sleep peacefully at night without the worry of our homes or land being overtaken by some hostile foreign power. I only hope that people will be more respectful of what you have endured and why. Thank you Courtney, for your service to this country that you have PROVEN you love dearly!!

    • Courtney says:

      Jamie, thank you for your kind words. It’s definitely tough for people to see the things that trigger us. I too suffer from PTSD and honestly am lucky it isn’t worse than it is. I will never forget coming home and I went to a friend of mine’s house. He was playing Call of Duty…no big deal right? Well we were sitting on his bed against the wall and he had surround sound that aimed at that position. As soon as people in the game started shooting I freaked out and ran. It just felt too real. I hope you enjoy our holiday and are able to spend it with people that understand the meaning. Thank you again for your words and hope you come back and talk anytime!

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. I love the look of fireworks, but they scare the crap out of me. I am so sorry for the trauma you have experienced, but I am so glad that you have been able to share this experience and help others to practice safe habits when enjoying firework displays.

  7. Awesome article my precious!!! Very needed info!!!

  8. Ed says:

    Courtney is our Grand-Daughter. I think she is a very good writer. Love her so much.

  9. Megan Walker says:

    This is a great reminder, Courtney. Welcome back!