Ex-soldier warns of the impact of fireworks on Armed Forces veterans

Bonfire Night helps break up the winter gloom but for forces veterans like Richard Smith the sudden flashes and bangs can trigger extreme anxiety responses.

Richard, 44, a former sergeant with the Coldstream Guards, from Frodsham, is campaigning for publicly organised fireworks displays with the support of his MP Mike Amesbury.

Richard, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, says many ex-servicemen and women suffer with mental health problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of their experience on the battlefield.

Former Guardsman Richard Smith

Richard, who signed up for the Army at 17, said: “Service people go to places where you would never wish to go and experience things you would never wish to experience.

“Kids used throw fireworks at us in Northern Ireland and in Iraq I was mortared and shot at.”

Since leaving in 2013, father-of-three Richard has lost eight of his comrades to suicide due to mental health issues.

He added: “It’s not just Bonfire Night but any kind of celebrations can involve fireworks; house parties, religious festivals and New Year’s Eve. As a veteran, you’ve got to get your head around that and it’s the ones we don’t know about that really affect us.”  

Richard would like to see organised events held within an agreed time frame to take away the element of surprise so veterans are not upset by unexpected bangs in the street or garden displays.

A Scout Leader at 4th Frodsham (Overton) Scout Group, he also believes public events would bring the community together, reduce accidents and injuries, take pressure off the emergency services and limit the amount of stress for pets.

On Monday, MPs will consider a petition signed by 301,610 people that calls for the sale and use of fireworks to be limited to displays only, by introducing licensing via local authorities.

Richard is being supported by his MP, Weaver Vale's Mike Amesbury

Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury, who has long supported this aim, said: “Without being a killjoy we need to consider others and move more towards a system of organised celebrations."

The Fireworks Code

  • Fireworks should not be sold to any person under the age of 18;

  • Ideally attend an organised display

  • Buy fireworks marked BS 7114;

  • Keep fireworks in a closed metal box;

  • Follow the instructions on each firework;

  • Light them at arm's length using a taper;

  • Stand well back;

  • Never go back to a lit firework;

  • Never put fireworks in your pocket;

  • Keep a bucket of water nearby if you are setting off fireworks in your garden;

  • Never throw fireworks;

  • Keep pets indoors;

  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix and may lead to injury

The Firework Heroes Code from Help for Heroes

  • Be mindful – think about the impact fireworks can have on people (and animals) nearby

  • Go to planned public fireworks displays - rather than set off fireworks at home

  • Give neighbours advance warning – it can be as simple as a message on a local WhatsApp or Facebook groups. If you are having fireworks at home this gives those near you the chance to create a coping strategy

  • Go silent - consider using the new generation of ‘silent’ fireworks

  • Give support - if you think someone has been affected by fireworks, make them as relaxed and as comfortable as possible and encourage them to reach out for professional help.