NORTH CHATHAM — A man was badly hurt following a mishap with a cannon Saturday afternoon.
With ambulances committed to other four other rescues in Chatham at the time, an Orleans ambulance was dispatched at 12:42 p.m. to 2 Salt Pond Rd., North Chatham, the Gerald Milden residence, for a report of a man shot with a cannonball.
Deputy Chatham Fire Chief David DePasquale was the first rescuer on scene, and said a man had been shot in the back with what turned out to be paper wadding, not a cannonball.
“He had about a two-inch gash oblong, and then he had three or four burns the size of a baseball,” the deputy said. “It just missed the spinal cord. It was just to the left of it.” The man was taken to Cape Cod Hospital with injuries Orleans Deputy Fire Chief Geof Deering described as “serious but not life-threatening.” Because of medical privacy laws, the man’s name has not been released.
DePasquale said the cannon is the small type sometimes used as a signal in sailboat races, and was apparently being used to fire a salute, without a projectile round. It is not clear who lit the fuse, but DePasquale said it appears Milden arranged to have the salute fired “to his own plane, that he paid to have flown over the beaches that day.” Milden is a vocal critic of the town’s use of dredging to clear the harbor channel, and DePasquale said the plane was towing a banner advertising Milden’s website.
“They lit the cannon, the wick went down and it just stopped,” DePasquale said. “So they figured, ‘I guess it’s just not going to fire.’” Those present walked closer to the edge of the property to wave at the plane. “They stood in front of the cannon—at least this one guy did—and they were just watching the plane go by. And the fuse re-lit.” Propelled by the blast, the paper wadding struck the man in the center of the back.
While local police issue firearms licenses, they do not license artillery. Fire Chief Peter Connick said that, in light of the incident, he has learned that the state Department of Fire Services licenses cannoneers, while the local fire department issues a permit for the storage of black powder over a certain quantity.
“But the ability to fire a cannon is permitted by DFS,” he said. Connick said that while he doesn’t know how much black powder is used to fire a cannon, the department had issued no such permits linked to the Milden property.
Department of Fire Services Public Information Officer Jennifer Mieth said some details of the incident remain unclear.
“Our code compliance officer will be assisting the fire department with their investigation and providing advice on any code enforcement actions they might take,” she said. “Our preliminary understanding is that the person had no permit or license to shoot and did not notify the fire department in advance. The first notification to the fire department was the 9-1-1 call,” Mieth said.
“I was not aware that we had any cannons housed in Chatham,” Connick said.
State codes adopted from the National Fire Protection Association specify safety measures that must be employed by licensed cannon operators, including detailed guidelines for firing blank rounds and procedures to be followed in the event the cannon does not discharge as expected.
The accident remains under investigation.
There may actually be more than one cannon in Chatham, DePasquale said. Posts on social media each year indicate that a cannon salute is fired each Independence Day from the Cannon Hill neighborhood of North Chatham.
“We don’t know who owns that one, and it’s not registered with us,” he said.