Catching yourself on fire not the best way to celebrate the New Year
by James Phillips
Dec 29, 2010 | 2772 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hearing a slight hiss and seeing sparks fly from a short fuse in the dark of night is a pretty exhilarating feeling, especially for a youngster.

The mixture of lights and sounds that typically follows said action makes fireworks all the more fun. That is unless someone gets hurt.

I would like to think that I've always been very careful during Independence Day and New Year's celebrations involving fireworks. My dad taught me the "light and flight" technique quite some time ago. That's when you light the fuse and immediately retreat at a rate of speed which almost causes you to take flight.

I must admit. I did participate in a few bottle rocket wars with friends and neighbors, and I've also held a Roman candle in my hand before. Other than those instances, I've always been safety-first when it comes to any type of explosive.

Call me a chicken, but I'm the type of person that would like to keep all my digits intact, and I do my very best to keep from taking part in any activity that could end up with me looking like an overweight Freddy Krueger.

The Krueger thing came dangerously close to happening when I was 16 years old. I was invited to a New Year's Eve party at a good friend's house. I had a crush on this beautiful girl at the time, and I thought the party would be a perfect way for us to hang out.

For Christmas that year, I had received a fleece sweatshirt with "BAMA" embroidered across the chest. I put it on with my coolest pair of jeans and went to pick up the gorgeous angel mentioned before. We went to the party and had a great time hanging out with some good friends.

I don't remember a lot of details about the night (due to my poor memory, and not any alcohol indulgence or anything like that), but I do remember it being a lot of fun until things turned scary.

It was like the plot of most horror movies: a bunch of young folks hanging out and having fun, but then things go terribly wrong.

Our horror happened probably sometime just before or just after midnight when fireworks were introduced to the party. Several of us had gone to the local fireworks stand and purchased some minor explosives to celebrate the new year. We basically had four or five of those $20-something value packs. It had your run-of-the-mill fireworks including bottle rockets, Roman candles, sparklers, firecrackers and even a little tank.

I didn't see much danger in the assortment we had purchased.

For the first half of the firework show, we had a lot of fun. We were laughing at how pitiful a display we had put together.

I knew we were in trouble when someone had the bright idea to tie together several items that take flight. One of my rules was to never light more than one explosive at a time, so I decided not to participate and take cover. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, it was difficult to completely take cover, but I did my best.

The fuse was lit and I heard several of these circular contraptions take off like teeny, tiny UFOs. There is no way to accurately describe the sound they made, but you could hear them whiz by and also see the small amount of sparks they produced.

When I thought they had all gone in a direction other than where I was hunkered down, I raised up to watch the others at the party scurrying for their lives. Unfortunately it was at that point in time that one of these little demon devices struck me dead center of my gut and flames immediately appeared. This brand new sweatshirt set ablaze like it had been covered in gasoline (these things obviously needed to be recalled).

I started slapping myself in the belly like some sort of Aborigine doing a fertility dance. I'm ashamed to say that I completely forgot about "Stop, Drop and Roll." After a few moments, I finally extinguished the fire. The damage was done to the sweatshirt, and I was forced to walk around the remainder of the night with my belly showing, and the letters "A" and "M" almost completely removed from the middle of the word "BAMA" on my chest.

There was one positive that came from my brush with possible third-degree burns that night. Once I got the fire out, I looked to the vision of perfection that I had brought to the party that night and she had tears rolling down her face. I ask her what was wrong, and she said, "I thought you were going to die."

We had came to the party as just a couple of friends, but I realized that night that she really cared for me. It was about a year later before we started dating, and we've been married for 11 years now. In a small way, I think getting myself caught on fire was the start of something special.

It wasn't the way I wanted to celebrate the New Year, but it worked out for the best. Be careful when you light your fireworks. Remember "light and flight," and most of all, if you're dead set on catching yourself on fire at least have a pretty girl nearby.

James Phillips is managing editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or