Fireworks Dos and Don'ts From a Man Who Lost a Hand on the 4th of July

Jonathan Malindine may not be the poster child for fireworks safety, but he’s got advice to share anyway.

Jonathan Malindine is a man with a lot going for him. He lives in one of the most gorgeous cities in the country—Santa Barbara, Calif.—and is on a Ph.D. track in cultural anthropology at UCSB. His wife has an established career as a private chef for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, and his darling 2½-year-old is currently collecting likes by the hundreds on her dad’s Facebook page.

But there’s something Jonathan doesn’t have that most of the rest of us do: two hands.

I came to know Jonathan from the time I spent in Alaska, that “last great place,” where the days can be so rowdy—considering variables like wild animals, terrible weather, and the kind of binge drinking that gives Robert Downey Jr. a run for his money—that you’re lucky to make it out alive. This is a reality Jonathan knows quite intimately: On July 4, 2000, his right hand was blown off by commercial explosives in Craig, in southeast Alaska.

“I’m a little wary about being a poster child for fireworks safety,” he wrote when I reached out online, “only because I didn’t lose my hand to fireworks. It was commercial explosives.” Because it was the Fourth of July, he writes, everyone just assumes that’s what happened. At the time of the incident, he too thought he was lighting harmless fireworks.

“It was 2 a.m. and everyone was drinking,” he tells me via phone a few hours later. “Some outlaw had stolen these commercial explosives off his logging job site, and he gives one to me. It just looked like an awesome firework to me,” he says.


Jonathan with his family
For some perceived slight, this person had it out for Jonathan, and rigged the bomb with a quick-lighting fuse. “It had this really long fuse and I thought I’d have more than enough time to light it and get away.” He only had “a second” before it exploded, he says. “That guy told me he was trying to kill me.” #onlyinalaska

A difficult recovery followed. “At the time I was working on fishing and diving boats, pulling in lines and helping divers with their hoses. I couldn’t do that anymore,” he says. He incurred PTSD as a result, too. “To this day, it freaks my body out when I hear loud, unexpected noises. It’s this body-memory thing.”

But he admits that back in his early 20s, he thought he was invincible. “I was reckless with my body,” he says. Now, as a husband and father, it’s difficult for him to imagine putting himself in another situation like that. “I have lots of new responsibilities, and it would be crazy to act like what I do doesn’t matter to my family.”

That said, Jonathan offers three tips for celebrating safely with fireworks—provided there are no sociopaths in your circle with access to anything more potent: “Don’t light anything you can’t identify. Don’t light fireworks while they’re in your hand. Whatever you’re lighting, do it and move away.”

With such a painful chapter firmly behind him, you’d think the man would have written off Alaska for good. When I ask him what he’s doing this coming holiday, he laughs. “You know what? I’m going to be back in Alaska, in Craig, where all this happened. As part of my doctoral work, I’m helping that community work toward creating a Native Alaskan Cultural Center and Museum.”

Will he be celebrating with any fireworks?

“You know, I used to light a firework once a year on July Fourth, as an act of self-defiance. To get back on the horse,” he says. “I don’t really do that anymore.”

gelliott@seattleweekly.com

Art credit: "Bottle Rocket" by Dan Hetteix from The Noun Project collection.

 
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