Independence Day Irony: Fireworks and Veterans


RENO, Nev. -- 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.

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.

Wells suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. After serving in the army for over three years and spending two tours in Iraq, he's seen and heard his fair share of battle cries.

"Seeing my friends get blown up and get hurt and get hurt, stuff like that is what really did worst than anything else," he said.

Still unable to go into full detail about his traumatic experiences, he recalls an evening, weeks after the holiday that sent him back onto the battlefield.

"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."

According to the VA hospital, 75% of veterans with PTSD suffer from these triggers, but the biggest problems come when they least expect it.

"What really bothers us is when it's after Fourth of July or it's in the middle of the night like 2 in the morning and they're lighting off fireworks," he said. "It sets us into anxiety attacks or flashbacks and stuff like that."

It's also a danger for surrounding communities, fireworks are illegal in the city even if you purchase them legally. Dave Cochran, Reno Fire Department chief says his main concern is the fires that could spark from the illegal fireworks.

"[People] will light them in the backyard, shoot them off rooftops, but the potential for that to cause damage is very great especially this year with the weather so hot and the humidity so low."

Fireworks can affect many war vets and pets in a negative way. PTSD therapists say veterans with PTSD who want to attend public celebrations like these, to make sure there is an easy escape route, or an easy way out.

"We don't ever want to take the Fourth of July or fireworks away from people, we want everyone to enjoy it, just be respectful to everyone else," Wells said. "Just don't do it at times that's not good for other people, in the middle of the night or two weeks after; it's just very disrespectful for others."

If you have any sparkling or explosive fireworks, you are asked to go the nearest fire station where they have an amnesty program, no questions asked and you can turn them in without any penalty.

If you are caught with fireworks, you could be slapped with a $1,000 fine or face up to six months in jail. If you suspect that someone has illegal fireworks, you are encouraged to call the Reno Fire Department at (775) 334-2300 anonymously and they will investigate any claims.


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