July 4, 2013 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 12Comment

Is it unpatriotic to dread the Fourth of July?   I wonder if some U.S. veterans do, in fact dread Independence Day because of the bottle rockets, shot missiles and other fireworks set off to mark the occasion.

NBC News contributor Bill Briggs wrote last year about Iraq War veteran Pete Chinnici, 26, who is “yanked backward in time to an unfriendly, unpredictable, violent land,” when neighborhood kids play with firecrackers.  Briggs quotes Dr. John Hart of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas:

“Fireworks hit right in the heart of these causes [PTSD triggers.]  Here’s an explosive-looking thing and a loud noise.  What they’ll feel when they hear or see fireworks is mostly fear, a sense of threat as they did during combat when the IED went off or when the Humvee blew up.

Among all U.S. veterans, estimates of the prevalence of reported PTSD ranges from 10-25 percent.  For the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone, there are 2.4 million U.S. veterans.   Veterans of other wars  feel the effects of fireworks, too.  Vietnam veteran Ken Kalish explained on Minnesota Public Radio why you don’t see veterans at fireworks shows:

“Anyone who’s been in combat knows that almost every time we heard those sounds … it was either because they were trying to kill us or because we were trying to kill them.  Those of us who’ve been in combat don’t like to make a big deal out of it, but next time you’re in the park watching fireworks, take a look around. A lot of veterans — as patriotic as they come — won’t be there.”

The blog EcoMerge offers suggestions on ways to reduce the impact of fireworks on those suffering from PTSD.

  • Consider viewing public firework displays instead of setting ones off in your neighborhood.
  • Talk with Veterans in your neighborhood to see if any particular fireworks are upsetting.
  • Let neighbors know what time you will be setting off fireworks and for what length of time.
  • Refrain from setting off fireworks at unexpected times during the day.
  • Choose a location that will be least likely to disturb vets.
  • Minimize the amount of fireworks that you set off.

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.  Bans on fireworks from consumers would reduce dismemberment, vision loss, burns, scarring and housefires caused by the pyrotechnics.  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.



12 thoughts on “Fireworks!! foe, not fun for veterans with PTSD

  1. If your readers do, indeed, Support the Troops, they will please heed your advice and watch fireworks at designated displays this year. Already, many of us have come home or worse! been awoken by the pop! pop! pop! of neighborhood fireworks. I know they are all in good fun and for your family, but please consider ours. Our children cannot understand why this fun, patriotic holiday sends us running to our bedrooms and basements. Why the merry Bang! of your explosive shakes us to our core and we cease to function. Please, consider your veteran and service member neighbors and please, please stick to sparklers. We beg you.

  2. It’s also the element of chaos which tends to have most impact on those with a heightened threat-awareness.

    If you ask me fireworks tend to have comparable effects on people with non-combatant PTSD or other fear-related disorders.

  3. How about showing some respect for veterans, and others, who find fireworks distressing, and just not participate in the practice at all?
    In most states in Australia, private use of fireworks has long been banned, mainly to prevent the accidents that saw many children suffer burns, lose fingers and damage hearing each year. I know, how nanny-state, civil-liberties infringing of us! Fortunately, we prefer our children alive and unharmed.

  4. I was in a car accident once. Should people talk to me about minimising the impact of them driving cars in my neighborhood?

  5. more than once i have been out of the house shouting and cursing at people who keep shooting off fireworks late into the night.years ago the noise would set me off during the day but it’s quiet thats broken by bang-bang-bang that gets me angry.
    i never feel like hiding out but go on the attack to make them stop.

  6. We might manage to have some sympathy for “man’s best friend,” too. I just spent the Fourth of July holding a terrified terrier, and more than half of the dog owners I talked to afterward reported similar experiences. The last fireworks display I saw scared a bunch of herons and egrets into an unaccustomed night flight. For wildlife, pets, AND suffering veterans, we could do without fireworks — private and public.

  7. You forget pets, especially dogs. Most are terrified. Mine exhibits aggression/ fear. Nothing works, tried from thundershirt to Xanax. Tried to drive away, no place to hide from loud, commercial grade, banging noise, now allowed in Michigan. Noise regulations are not enforced and it has been going on for a week past midnight and even during the day.

  8. At the risk of the opprobrium, I believe it is the responsibility of the tiny minority of people suffering from PTSD to *protect themselves* from triggers. That goes for the owners of dogs with fireworks (and probably thunder) sensitivity.

    The 4th of July is nationally associated with booms and bangs and fireworks and flashes. If you cannot tolerate the triggers, get yourself someplace where it’s not as loud. If that’s not possible, tranquilize yourself if that works. You can always approach your neighbors and see if you can get some consideration, but there could be consequences in how they treat you in the future.

    If you’re a pet owner, you might look into a Thundershirt for your dog, or tranquilizers if they suffer that much.

  9. @Dan:
    To some extent, I agree with you that folks should protect themselves. Still, with so many vets coming home now, it’s worth it to at least make the public aware of the issue.

    The problem with trying to protect oneself is, it’s not just the actual 4th. Around here, (in a state where it’s actually illegal for private citizens to use fireworks) the banging went on unpredictably for days before and after the holiday. I have no idea where one could possibly go to get away from it. The public displays are at least scheduled in advance, so that one can plan to avoid or endure them.

  10. I am against fireworks too. I was in a terrible car accident directly before last year’s July 4th celebration, and i spent a week on the couch in darkness, huddled up and petrified. A city dwelling person cannot escape the noises that time of year, and it didn’t occur to me until later i could have flown to my parents’ rural home and hidden.

    And a car accident is only a small percentage of the trauma that actual combat must be. If i was that upset, i can’t imagine how much worse it is for someone with actual PTSD. I cannot fathom that we willingly and deliberately put people through the tortures that we do in the name of recreation.

  11. Most dogs will be far less fearful of noise if they are exposed to a wide variety of places, people, and sensory stimuli as puppies and shown by their owners’ reactions that those things aren’t frightening. At our local fireworks display this year the people sitting in front of us had a big white dog who appeared to be grooving on the experience. We raised our cat in a loud rackety home from the get-go and she tolerates or ignores our neighborhood’s illegal fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and practically every other type of commotion (except that she recognizes loud storms to be dangerous). Many other cats are naturally too skittish to raise this way, but when I see a dog that’s afraid of everything I always suspect that it’s led a pretty limited life and/or has owners who are also afraid of everything.

  12. I can force myself to celebrate the fourth, but what I thought before a cry for attention with the whole firework ptsd issue. I now understand. It causes agitation real bad for me. My neighbor sets off random bottle rockets year round, and I wanna shoot the bottle as he’s lighting one off so badly but of course it would prolly not look so good. Im already feared for things that im not capable of just because of my “P.T.S.D.” “Watch out for him hes bee to Combat so he might just go do the crazy vet thing” Im so over the stigma!

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