By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The annual celebration of the birth of America, also known as Fourth of July weekend, brings with it many things, gatherings of family and friends, parades, amazing fireworks displays and barbecue. Lots of barbecue.
The holiday weekend also brings its share of danger. The 30 days surrounding the holiday consistently rank as the most dangerous in the country. Typically, the highest numbers of DUI-related fatal crashes and deaths and injuries from fireworks, heat exposure and water activities occur during this timeframe.
“We encourage supervisors to implement pre-departure safety briefings, especially during holiday seasons,” said Staff Sgt. Morris Thomas, NCO in-charge of ground safety for the 50th Space Wing.
Thomas said personnel planning on taking road trips during the long weekend should take advantage of the travel risk planning system to help prepare for their trip. Travelers should also check their vehicle systems, fluids and spare tire to make sure they are in proper working order before departing.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, during the July 4th holiday in the five year period from 2009 to 2013, 750 people were killed in crashes where one of the drivers had a blood alcohol content of .08 or more accounting for 39 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in that span.
“Drinking during any activity makes it inherently more dangerous,” Thomas said. “You could wind up hurt, maimed or killed and that’s what we want to prevent.”
Airmen Against Drunk Driving will have expanded operating hours during the holiday weekend in case people find themselves in need of a ride. The organization, which typically operates Friday and Saturday evenings, will have service available from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. every evening from July 2-5.
“We are here for anyone who needs a ride,” said Airman First Class Rosemary Gudex, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs and A2D2 council member. “We want them to get home safe, come back and support the mission.”
Gudex said it’s important for people to have a plan before they go out, whether that be a designated driver, calling a cab or utilizing A2D2, every time they go out, but especially so during a weekend where the potential for danger is so high.
“It doesn’t matter what day it is, weekend or holiday, but especially this weekend, it’s important to have a plan,” Gudex said.
A2D2 is still in need of volunteers for the weekend, she added. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact their unit representative, call A2D2 at 552-2233 or just show up to the Eclipse Café at Peterson Air Force Base at 10 p.m. on the night service is available.
DUIs aren’t the only things that make the 4th of July holiday dangerous. An estimated 10,500 fireworks-related injuries were treated in emergency departments in U.S. hospitals in 2014, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Approximately 7,000 of those injuries, 67 percent, were treated in the one-month period between June 20 and July 20, 2014.
With the recent rise in temperatures, and break from the steady rains that plagued May and much of June, outdoor activities will be a part of many holiday celebrations this year. More time spent outside can lead to a greater risk for heat related issues such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. These risks are increased for children and the elderly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips for outdoor safety: try to avoid outdoor activities during midday when the sun’s rays are strongest, drink plenty of cool, non-alcoholic fluids, seek shade when possible and wear sunscreen and lip screen, with a SPF of 15 or higher, and reapply as necessary throughout the day.
The increase in temperature usually means more people will be going in the water to cool off. Whether that means going for a swim in the backyard pool, or spending some time in a boat there are simple ways to minimize risk for these activities as well.
“Always swim with a partner, avoid severe weather and never swim tired or impaired,” Thomas said. “Avoid swift moving currents, but if you get caught in a current, angle towards the shore.”
Thomas said ground safety has 12 rules personnel should follow if they plan to operate a boat, they are: check the capacity plate and follow manufacturer’s guidelines, know your boat and know your limitations as a driver, keep a good lookout, ensure crew and passengers have a floatation device, operate at safe and legal speeds and watch for wake, take heed of the weather, take enough fuel in proper containers, keep the boat ship-shape, take proper safety equipment, secure the boat properly, review local boating laws (ignorance is not an excuse) and never operate a boat while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
“Operating a boat requires concentrated skill and awareness,” Thomas said.
The 4th of July is a wonderful time to celebrate and reflect on the history and birth of our nation, but it can also be a dangerous time if people fail to take proper precautions. Having a plan before drinking, leaving fireworks to professionals, limiting exposure to the sun and following proper boating procedures are just a few of the simple steps that can be taken to stay safe this holiday.