Kirby: Lifelong pyromaniac vows to avoid fire on July 4th
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last month, I spoke at the Utah State Firemen's Association convention in Park City. Several hundred firefighters gathered in a large hall to hear what an incautious idiot had to say for himself.

An apology wasn't included in my remarks. However, I'd like to go on record with one here and now. I'd also like to make a promise.

But first, allow me to explain.

I have the distinction of being one of the least safe people on the planet. If it involves fire, explosions, fumes, sparks, rocketry, fuses and gunpowder, I have behaved irresponsibly with it.

This disturbing behavior was first recorded at age 5, when I set fire to my mother's garden in an attempt to dispose of some carrots I feared destined at some point for the dinner table.

It wasn't a big fire. In fact, the baby sitter put it out with a water pitcher. However, in what would become a lifelong pattern of ridiculously unbelievable excuses, I tried blaming it on a dog we didn't even have.

Nonetheless, I'm proud to say that of all the fires I accidentally caused or intentionally set, property loss never amounted to more than a few hundred dollars in any one event.

Also, no one was ever personally injured, at least not by the actual flames and smoke. A few people were badly traumatized by post-fire floggings, including me, Duncan, Leon, my brothers and, once, an entire Scout troop.

Over the years I became more safety conscious. Last week, when I demonstrated some homemade artillery to an LDS Young Men's group, it was done while standing in the middle of a shallow creek.

No fires were started and no one got hurt, but we did learn a valuable gospel lesson: It is possible to drive a golf ball half a mile in a straight line without first offering one's soul to the devil.

Now the apology part.

To the best of my recollection, fire departments were only ever called in about two dozen of the fires I set or helped set. And only twice was I dragged home by an annoyed fire-fighting professional attached to the scruff of my neck.

Both of those times I was forced to apologize to the firefighter for playing with matches, and then thoroughly cuffed around in his presence by my father. In fairness, I had it (and more) coming.

It was these apologies that I first thought about Sunday when I heard that a wildfire had killed 19 firefighters in Arizona.

Note: Yeah, I know the fire is believed to have been started by lightning, but let's not kid each other. The cause could have been anything.

Fire — both the risk of and the actual flames — can be a lot of fun, particularly to fools, imbeciles, dolts and ignoramuses. And by this I mean all boys and most adult males.

But it's also damn dangerous. Fire, like a poorly thought-out relationship with a woman, can turn into a nightmare before you even stop grinning.

Fire is something you can end up paying for for the rest of your life. And if you pay for it with someone else's life, you'll never stop being sorry.

We're in the middle of it, people. Thanks to the weather, the entire Western U.S. is set to explode. And here in Utah we're heading toward a deadly intersection — July and fireworks.

So here's my apology to firefighters … and the promise: I'm sorry for my past behavior. And to prove it I promise that I'll find another way to celebrate this month than by foolishly putting your lives at risk.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.