Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Fireworks Safety

With Canadian Independence Day just past and the Fourth of July today, I'd like to talk about fireworks and fireworks safety.

The concept of fireworks dates back over two thousand years, and they've come a long way from their origin of paper or bamboo tubes thrown into a fire. Since then, we've added new colors, the ability to launch them, and considerably better reliability. However, at the end of the day we're still dealing with a variety of small (or not-so-small) explosive devices, so a certain amount of care is required around them.

If you are attending a professional display, just stand back and enjoy the show. People who do this kind of thing for a living are very careful, and a considerable amount of planning goes into even a small professionally-run fireworks show.

When setting off fireworks as a private individual, there are some basic guidelines that should be followed for the welfare of all involved:

  • Only fireworks about to be launched should be out of their packaging.
  • One responsible person should be in charge of setup and lighting.
  • Communication between that person and any assistants is essential.
  • Lighting should be done using some sort of standoff device, such as a grill lighter, fireplace matches, or a road flare.
  • Buckets of water, buckets of sand, and/or fire extinguishers should be kept handy.
  • As with firearms, absolutely no alcohol should be imbibed by anyone involved in setting up or launching the fireworks!
  • After the show is done, a walkthrough should be performed to look for any live embers.
  • While generally not needed, some people will benefit from hearing protection during a fireworks show, either public or private.
  • And finally, be considerate of others. Any detonations should be limited to the few days centered on an appropriate holiday and no later than around eleven o'clock at night. Also, keep any pets inside with a comfortable place to hide.

Two quick stories to reinforce the importance of safety when dealing with fireworks:
  1. My grandfather was missing two fingers on one hand because when he was young, he'd been setting off fireworks with friends, and he held onto one for just a bit too long. This is why fireworks should always be placed on a stand before being lit.

  2. Back when I lived in New York, one of my friends on the fire department would have a big party on July 4 every year, including several hundred dollars worth of fireworks. Me, being me, I was voluntold to be in charge of setting up the fireworks. This included unwrapping them, splicing and taping fuses, and setting up ground launchers and mortars... basically, everything except actually lighting them, though I did get to do some of that as well. Franky, I found the setup aspect more interesting and intellectually stimulating than the lighting of fuses part.

    At one point, I turned around to find the host trying to unwrap a package of fireworks. There were several problems with this: it had been agreed that I was the only one who was supposed to be doing that; he was drunk; and he was using a butane grill lighter (with his finger on the trigger!) to try and get the package open. I politely relieved him of both the fireworks and the launcher and sent him on his way. I'm happy to report that there were no other incidents, and no fireworks related injuries occurred that night.

Be aware and be careful, so we can end the holiday with the same number of digits and holes we started with.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

BOB Ergonomics

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

The biggest problem I have with creating a Bug Out or Get Home Bag isn't assembling it, but rather with its ergonomics. I want to be able to retrieve quickly and easily things that I will use often, such as insect repellant or sunscreen. Things which I will not need often, such as my tent, can then be packed deep in my bag and not be as easy to retrieve. 

Such extremes are obvious, but things become more complicated as I progress to the middle. A simple choice is trauma gear, like a pressure bandage and tourniquet; while I hope I will never need to use them at all, let alone repeatedly, but if I need them I will need them right now and therefore they must be quickly and easily accessible. Unfortunately, they are also bulky and take up a fair bit of space, which means that I don't have room for all the things which I would like to have handy. This is why I say that ergonomics is my biggest problem; when I am working with a BOB/GHB, I end up playing a mental game of "How often will I need this?"

As a case in point, let us consider toilet paper. You'd think that when you need to go, you need to go right now, and that may be true for people with sensitive bladders or tricky bowels. For me, right now at least, I'm not at that stage; I typically have a window of five minutes or more between "I think I need to use the toilet" and "I AM GOING TO EXPLODE." Combine that with the knowledge that I will need to take off my pack before I do my business in the bushes and that means I can safely put the toilet paper in the less-accessible parts of the pack, because I will be stopping for several minutes. 

Ah, but on the other hand I have allergies, and that can mean runny nose and watery eyes, and I will need some kind of tissue to help with that! So do I keep the TP in the quick access area for allergy purposes? Or do I pack some Kleenex or similar to help with that and keep the TP elsewhere? This is the sort of conundrum which perplexes me. 

This is what is going through my head these days as I rebuild my BOB and my GHB, which I took pieces from in order to build a demonstration "jack of all trades BOB" for my presentation at LibertyCon last weekend. In my experience, it's always harder to make a generalized pack than a specialized one, because specialist packs can rule out certain conditions which generalist packs cannot. For example, because I live in central Florida where it maybe flirts with freezing about one week out of the year, I can get by with three-season gear, whereas those of you who live in states with actual winters cannot. An urban GHB will have little need for water purification, as municipal water treatment should have eliminated giardia and cryptosporidium by the time it's reached the city; a more pressing need will be getting to that water, so a sillcock key is highly recommended to activate publicly accessible faucets. A rural GHB will be the exact opposite, with few locked faucets but likely lots of flowing (or standing) water of questionable cleanliness. 


... that was certainly a digression! Getting back on topic, I needed to steal from my BOB and my GHB in order to build a demonstration BOB that could do anything. Now that I'm back home (and mostly recovered from whatever con crud I picked up) I won't be happy until I have at least one of my bags reconstituted. You'd think that would be easy, but it isn't, because putting a bag back together forces me to re-examine my thinking regarding bag ergonomics. This slows me down a great deal; the only real comfort I have is knowing that each time I rebuild a bag, it's better than it was before, because each new version benefits from the wisdom of previous iterations. 

Speaking of wisdom, if you ever think you absolutely have command of a subject, prepare to teach a class or give a presentation on that subject. I guarantee you that you will think of questions (and problems!) you'd never before considered, as the act of explaining the subject to another person forces the mind down new paths. I am a better prepper for having taught my class, as the act of explaining my reasoning for things caused me to confront certain assumptions I'd made which I hadn't noticed while thinking quietly to myself. 

So, to summarize:
  • Generalist BOBs/GHBs are bigger and heavier than specialist. 
  • Tearing down and rebuilding your bag will result in a better bag. 
  • If you think you know your stuff, teach a course to realize all the things you don't know. 

The Fine Print

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