Growing up, Jeremy Long loved watching his dad and his uncle shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“I wouldn't want to take that from any American, any child,” the Hudson resident said.

But after a tour of duty in Iraq with the Army, where he saw and heard the deafening explosions of roadside bombs, the sudden cracks and pops of fireworks produced more anxiety than entertainment.

His mind couldn't always distinguish “Is that bang really a firework, or is that bang an IED?” he said, referring to an improvised explosive device.

While much of the American public celebrates the Fourth of July with a sanctioned fireworks show, some residents — despite it being illegal to set off fireworks in Ohio — take on the celebratory task themselves, firing off explosives through the night.

In addition to the danger to that person's appendages, the sudden noise and flashes of light can also have an adverse effect on shooting victims, people on the Autism spectrum and military veterans and others dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It's an issue that can come up every year at this time, experts say, with many victims of trauma finding ways to avoid fireworks or to cope with their inevitability.

“It's hard not to be near fireworks on July Fourth,” said Patrick Palmieri, the director of Summa Health's Traumatic Stress Center in Akron.

His clinic serves victims of trauma, both military and civilian, in dealing with the lingering effects.

There's no universal trigger for those with PTSD, he said, so while some may struggle with loud noises, others could be unbothered. His clinic works with victims to understand their triggers and find ways to get through the Fourth of July, which often lasts more like a week, as part of their treatment plan.

“I think for a lot of veterans, it is a distressing holiday in that regard,” Palmieri said.

Reactions to those noises, particularly for people who endured combat, can include emotional and physical symptoms like a racing heart and dizziness.

“When those trauma memories are triggered, they can elicit intense emotional distress, similar to what would happen in the original trauma situation,” he said.

Before receiving help at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Long was experiencing hyper-vigilance, from needing to stand against a wall to always having an exit plan from a room.

A six-week program followed by therapy changed his life, he said, allowing him to relax more in public and have normal conversations without thinking about how to escape.

Cindy Yamokoski, the PTSD program manager for the Cleveland VA, said triggers can take veterans back to the moments they endured trauma. That's why therapy includes grounding veterans to their surroundings, even just saying out loud where they are.

The fireworks themselves aren't always what causes the relived trauma, she said, but rather the anticipation leading up to the day.

“It's the unexpected nature of it that can be more alarming for people,” Yamokoski said.

Long, who left the Army 11 years ago, said he handles fireworks much better when he feels like he's in control. That's why he encourages people who plan to set them off to let neighbors know. And if those neighbors are veterans, in particular, to invite them to be part of the event so they don't have anxiety about not knowing when the noise will occur.

Reaction to the explosive noise itself can also be triggering for people on the autism spectrum, which can cause someone to be easily overwhelmed by loud noises, said Laurie Cramer, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron.

“The constant popping can be very rattling,” she said. Her 18-year-old son, who is on the spectrum, watches fireworks through the windows of their home while wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Cramer said she encourages the public to be understanding of those who are unsettled by the noises, and to have patience if someone in their vicinity has an adverse reaction.

“It goes to just being kind, offering help, not judging if they do have a meltdown, and helping the parents, if you can, work through it,” she said.

David Burden, project manager with the Veterans Service Commission of Summit County, said residents who know of a neighbor or family member with PTSD could reach out to ask about fireworks, or let them know at least when they will be happening.

“I don’t think you could ever go wrong with that, just looking out for your neighbor,” he said.

 

Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet