Commentary: 101 Narrow escapes this summer

It won’t be long now until all of those familiar summer safety messages come hurling at us for the 101 days of summer. I have to admit that I planned not to add to that sortie with a commentary on the importance of wearing a seat belt or a helmet or putting on a life jacket, but an old memory came back to me that just made my skin crawl.

It’s not that I think summer safety messages are trivial; I like the reminders and follow the obvious ones. A chief master sergeant I knew would probably call it simply not being a “knucklehead.” So if we repeat the message enough – don’t drink and drive – there will be less of us in the hospital come the fall, right?

Here is where summer safety always gets me: that unexpected, narrow escape.

Those are the times when, in a moment of true knuckleheadedness, I do something without thinking and later realize I could have been hurt. Then, I look around and see if anyone noticed. I also breathe out a “whew.”

For many of us, those learning moments usually remain a secret because, let’s face it, no one wants to share how stupid we were or how close we came to a ride to the hospital on a nice summer day.

I think that we’ve all been there.

The memory that recently made my skin crawl is my earliest narrow escape. I’d never thought of it until recently when I’d saw a father and his son filling a gas can at a service station.

There was a similar gas can, and I did something that could have killed my friend and me. The story went like this:

It was just another summer day, and my childhood friend and I decided to sleep in the fort we just built behind the field near my home.

The plan was to pull the old trick of telling my parents I was sleeping at his house and vice-versa. We’d grab some supplies and spend a glorious night in the woods camping in freedom by the fire.

Neither of us had ever started a campfire before, so we grabbed my father’s metal gas can that he kept in the garage for his chainsaw. It was full, it was heavy, and it was covered with a dirty film of gasoline and two-cycle engine oil.

That evening, with a smoldering fire before us, I decided to pour the gas from the can directly onto the fire to get it going – I may have once seen an adult do it. Next thing I knew, the flames leaped up around us in a massive WOOSH. The air itself seemed to catch fire and I dropped the slippery can. It rolled toward my friend leaving a trail of flames.

I never know how or why I immediately up-righted the can with my foot and stepped over the hole to keep it from exploding on us. My friend stamped out the ground fire that was spreading. I also never know why my sneaker was the only part of me that got slightly charred, and we probably whistled “whew,” in relief that neither of us was hurt.

The National Gasoline Safety Project estimates that more than 1,500 children are injured or killed by gasoline fires each year. You can learn more online at

Today, I look back and think how different my life would have been had my friend or I been severely burned that day. It makes me cringe. It’s certainly a safety lesson now that I’ll never forget.

So, there are 101 days of summer ahead. Enjoy your freedom. Be safe. Remember that kids are watching what you do, so NEVER use gasoline to kindle a fire. And keep gasoline out of children’s sight and reach.

By Eartheditor

Hello. I am a prior U.S. Navy sailor and photojournalist serving on active duty with the National Guard – combined, for more than 24 years. This blog features my more memorable stories and photos from that news pile as well as creative writing. All images and stories are by me unless otherwise credited. I hope to backlog more as well as write new stories. Thank you so much.
- Mike R. Smith

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