Veterans, loved ones remind Americans fireworks can trigger PTSD
By KIMBERLY C. MOORE | The Ledger | Published: July 4, 2019
LAKELAND, Fla. — While many people in America will enjoy the heart-pounding explosions of fireworks to celebrate Independence Day, Chuck Kirk is going to stay inside his Lakeland home and hope his neighbors show some restraint in setting off their own personal collections of explosives.
"It takes me back where I was," said Kirk, who served with the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam between 1968 and 1971. "I have 70% PTSD."
The Mayo Clinic webpage states that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that begins with a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, "as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event."
Kirk, who is 100% disabled, was stationed near Chu Lai when he was gravely wounded by a mortar explosion. Some 48 years later, he finds it hard to talk about his experience.
"With PTSD, there's no certain trigger, but things like (fireworks) don't help," he explained.
Gary Clark, chairman of the Polk County Veterans Council, said Kirk isn't alone.
"It's real — it's absolutely real what some of these folks do go through," Clark said. "One of the things we're very careful of is, not only fireworks, but other events where there may be reenactments of scenes that may involve pyrotechnics that might cause a reaction on the part of those afflicted with PTSD — or anything that reminds them of a situation they may have been exposed to."
Kelley Frable's husband, Christopher, 39, did two tours in Afghanistan with the Florida National Guard and the United States Army. He lost a fellow solider while stationed in Kabul.
Frable, 37, said her husband has to stay inside their home in the Cedarwood neighborhood of Imperial Lakes, donning headphones to block out the sound of the rockets' bursting in air, shot off by people who live in the Sundance neighborhood behind them and might not be aware of his issues with the sound of explosions.
"The majority of time, people will use that spot to shoot up the really large fireworks," she said. "When you walk barefoot in my house you can feel the vibration of the fireworks."
Christopher Frable will put on music he enjoys and play a game on his computer, with the celebration lasting well past midnight some years. She puts out finger food for them and their two teenagers so he doesn't have to take off his headphones to ask for anything until it's all over.
Frable said she doesn't want to take away anyone's enjoyment of fireworks, but always appreciates the neighbors on their street who give them a heads up that they are going to launch them so her husband can prepare.
"I belong to a church and so I always ask for their prayers ... not just for veterans," Frable said, adding that she's also concerned about children who are autistic and sound-sensitive, along with pets who cower under beds. "It just makes life doable for those people if they can at least get prepared."
Kirk, sitting at a table at the American Legion Post 4 off Ariana Street, agreed.
"Please respect the ones that protected you," he said.