Like the entire country, the Flathead Valley is entering an uncertain summer, on the heels of a tumultuous spring. What we don’t need to add to our list of concerns is a surge in injuries, accidents and arrests over Fourth of July weekend, a celebratory period marked by high rivers, alcohol consumption, fireworks and lots of time on the water.
To be sure, there will be incidents, but responsible behavior will mitigate the numbers and severity, and hopefully avoid tragedy. The county is already heading into the weekend reeling from one heartbreaking incident, in which Dennis Bee, the son of late Bee Broadcasting founder Benny Bee, Sr., drowned after his raft capsized on the Flathead River on June 23.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released its annual fireworks report on June 25, which reported that hospital emergency departments across the country treated roughly 7,300 fireworks-related injuries between June 21 and July 21 last year. Sixty-six percent of the cases were male, while 34 percent were female. There were 12 deaths for all of 2019.
Of particular note is that children 0 to 4 years old had the highest estimated rate of emergency department-treated fireworks injuries, followed by teens 15 to 19. It’s unsettling that kids under 4 are most frequently suffer fireworks-related injuries that are severe enough to require emergency medical attention. Please be diligent in keeping your little ones safe.
Meanwhile, drowning has long been the leading cause of death in Glacier National Park, while incidents also occur frequently outside of the park’s boundaries throughout water-filled Northwest Montana. This year’s runoff season has been lengthy, and as of June 29, the Flathead River system was still running well above historical averages for this time of year.
Also, local law enforcement officials sent out their annual Vision Zero public service announcement reminding people not to drink and drive and that there will be increased patrols over the Fourth of July weekend. Vision Zero is a state initiative that aims for “zero deaths and zero serious injuries on Montana roadways.”
The announcement from the Kalispell and Whitefish police departments noted that summer is the deadliest time of year for motor vehicle accidents, with “48% of all fatal crashes and 45% of all serious injury crashes in Montana” occurring between June and September, a time period known nationally as the “100 Deadliest Days.”
“There is no excuse for driving while impaired,” law enforcement authorities said in a statement. “It’s every driver’s responsibility to be sober and take traffic safety seriously — for themselves, their friends and family, and everyone else on the road.”
The announcement encouraged people to “make a responsible plan before the Fourth of July celebrations begin, whether that means having a designated driver, calling a cab, ordering a ride share or offering a sober ride to others if you’re not drinking.”
Fourth of July, as with nearly everything else right now, will be different in Northwest Montana this year, with the cancellation of parades, firework shows and events. But we’ll still be celebrating, as we should. Let’s just make sure we do it safely.