Saturday, July 05, 2008

How is this a warning about fireworks?

Jim Stingl in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote about a 13-year-old girl living in Milwaukee who mistook an explosive for a candle.

Her aunt was cooking something that smelled like onions, and Nyshenia didn’t like the odor. So she lighted a festively colored cylinder that she thought was a scented candle.

When the wick began to spark, the girl knew something was wrong and bent over to extinguish it on the living room carpet.

“When I went down like that, it just exploded. It was a big old boom noise,” she said.

Nyshenia looked down at her right hand and saw bones, shredded flesh, skin and blood. She cried out for her grandmother, Vickie Hale. They wrapped her hand in a towel and called 911.

Okay, it's a terrible tragedy. But as the story makes clear, this was not a case of a child hurting herself playing with fireworks. Somehow a stick of dynamite just followed them around like magic and a tragic Warner Brothers cartoon re-enactment took place.

“The doctor wrote on his chart that it was some kind of dynamite,” said Hale, who is raising Nyshenia. “Believe me, it would not have been in my house if I had known.”

The object somehow got mixed in with their stuff when they moved from another apartment last year. It sat on a shelf until Nyshenia picked it up, a moment she will forever wish she could undo.

Now I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about pyrotechnics as some people I know, but most Fourth of July displays do not include blowing things up with dynamite. And if the Milwaukee police officer had an IQ larger than the number of overtime hours he worked last week, he might've asked the aunt just how and why a stick of dynamite was just laying out where a 13-year-old girl could mistake it for a candle.

The truth is the overwhelming number of people that buy fireworks for the Fourth of July do not hurt themselves. Fireworks, properly handled, can be great entertainment and far safer than going to a Milwaukee County Park.

Every year I go to a place with a rather impressive backyard display (and if any Milwaukee or Waukesha cops are reading this, it's in West Bend at the Robinsons). Every year they take great care to make sure the area is safe for fireworks, that spectators are at a safe distance, and that the person who launches them is competent. The result is a display that any local park would envy.

If you were in Milwaukee last night, you couldn't help but notice the number of home fireworks displays. What surprised me was the size of the fireworks displays. Instead of the typical bottle rockets, many people were launching rather impressive fireworks. Some of them consistently. It's as if the size of the possible fine only encouraged people to go for the bigger stuff. If you're going to get fined the same for a sparkler and a multiple mortar shell with repeating bursts why would you settle for the sparkler?

So if anything do-googer do-gooder nannyism is only encouraging even more reckless behavior.

Who could've predicted that?