This post isn’t about a horrendous fireworks tragedy that turned into a mass casualty incident. It isn’t about seared flesh, severed limbs, or the inane actions of some drunk playing with fireworks.
Quite the opposite.
I had worked on the 4th of July for four years running partly because that was how the schedule worked out, because I wanted the overtime and, embarrassingly, because I just didn’t have anything better to do. This year, however, I had a lot of incentive to take the 4th of July off. That incentive was by way of the wonderful woman I am seeing, and to reacquaint myself with celebrating a holiday like a normal person.
The 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas. I mean, seriously, a holiday that allows a person to legally blow stuff up? What could be better? From a very early age I learned the fine art of positioning Black Cats just right so that the model airplanes that I had meticulously assembled throughout the year would blow apart into a million pieces. If I was lucky, the airplane would catch fire, too. I learned just how long I could hold onto a smoking cap stick before it blew up and burned my hand. I learned that if I lit enough smoke bombs all at once and put them in a trash can, the fire department would show up. I learned that the larger bottle rockets – the ones with the 3 foot sticks – would shatter a kitchen window if aimed just right. When I was a kid, M-80s were still legal. I discovered that the more confined the space that the M-80 blew up in, the bigger and more powerful the explosion. I learned that if I tightly wrapped an M-80 with duct tape to a tree that was six inches in diameter, for example, doing that about four times would fell the tree. Unfortunately, it was my neighbor’s tree. That year I spent the 4th of July in my bedroom, in bed, with the lights out, while the rest of the family oooh’d and ahhh’d while my dad blew up a load of fireworks that would make anyone salivate.
And then there were the heated (no pun intended) bottle rocket wars with my neighborhood buddy. Within an hour of the fireworks stands opening for the year, we would each secure a fairly large cardboard box. We would cut a hole to see out of, and another one to shoot out of, and then proceed to try and shoot a bottle rocket into the other person’s fortress and ignite their ammo dump. One year I snuck a Roman Candle into my arsenal because my buddy had figured out a way to shoot multiple bottle rockets and I needed a leg up. He didn’t stand a chance under the heavy barrage of ‘rocket fire’ from a twenty shot Roman Candle. When his cardboard box caught on fire, he had to bail out. I declared a victory. He demanded a rematch.
This year it was very dry so blowing up a bunch of stuff wasn’t practical due the high probability of setting about 500 acres of grassland on fire. We still managed a few daytime parachutes, and a couple of fountain cones. We also set off several packages of Black Cats that put my dog in manic mode. What really made the night special, though, was the view I had while sitting on my deck with the love of my life; our bellies full from grilling, a warm buzz from the beer, and watching four or five professional displays simultaneously light up the horizon. This is the third year I have lived in this house and I didn’t know that I had such a great view.
My lady friend (saying ‘girlfriend’ makes me sound young and I am WELL beyond young) happens to be a scanner nerd, something I happen to like very much about her. While we relaxed with our feet up, sipping on cold adult beverages and watching the panoramic view of the night sky being illuminated with the rockets red glare, we listened to the Police, Fire, and EMS scanner. She listened because she is a non-EMS person and curious about what goes on. I listened because, well, I was not working and for reasons that I am sure are not entirely pure, I got a sense of satisfaction in knowing what I was missing. We heard over 30 dispatches for fireworks-related grass fires, and the resulting updates about ‘civilians’ trying to put them out. And then, just as most celebrations were in full swing, there was a dispatch at around 10:30 for chest pain. The patient was in their forties with a several week history of chest pain. The update was that they would be waiting outside by the curb for the ambulance.
I could hear the irritation in my co-worker’s voices as they answered up for the call, and even more irritation after they had made patient contact and were en route to the hospital. I had been in their position many times before: Christmas, Thanksgiving, the 4th of July…there always seemed to be a certain segment of society that chooses to call for an ambulance during a holiday for an affliction that they have had for several weeks. I envisioned that this person was attending a 4th of July party and while everyone else was reveling in the holiday, they needed everyone to feel sorry for them. As calloused as this might sound, it is reality…and a sad one at that. This year, however, I didn’t have to deal with it.
It was a warm, still night. I had wonderful company. We had a spectacular view of people celebrating the independence of this country.
I hope I get to do it this way next year, too.