Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “accidents”

Why could using discarded grenades be dangerous?

In my entry for Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam, I claim you can answer the question “Why could using discarded grenades be dangerous?” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Visit the resource and click on “fullscreen” under the book.
  2. Type in “grenade” in the book’s search box. This will give you three indicators at the bottom of the online book reader:

search result indicators

Mousing over these dots will show some text. You want the section where you see “Just after the Marine picks up the grenade, a fire fight starts …” Here you’ll read:

A Marine on an operation in a jungle area picks up an M-26 fragmentation grenade, “dropped by some guy in the squad,** he thinks. A member of a patrol steps through a hole in a hedgerow. An Army engineer on a morning sweep of Highway 1 begins to check the same 10 potholes in the blacktop road he’s been sweeping for a week, when somebody in the waiting column of trucks honks his horn impatiently. What do all of these men have in common? They’ll all be dead in a matter of minutes.

Just after the Marine picks up the grenade, a firefight starts. He pulls the pin and throws the grenade. He’ll never throw another. The enemy planted the grenade after removing the 4-7 second delay fuze and replacing it with a zero delay fuze.

The whole column is worth reading for an explanation of wartime mishaps and how one can try to avoid them.

Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam is just one of many Marine Corps and Vietnam War related resources in Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Accident Reports

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Accident Reports – http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AccidentReports.aspx

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some plausible hazardous materials accidents?
  • What are some typical causes of bus crashes?
  • What are some typical railroad fatalities?


From the website:

Accident Reports are one of the main products of an NTSB investigation. Reports provide details about the accident, analysis of the factual data, conclusions and the probable cause of the accident, and the related safety recommendations. Most reports focus on a single accident, though the NTSB also produces reports addressing issues common to a set of similar accidents.

Reports can be browsed by mode: aviation, hazardous materials, highway, marine, pipeline and railroad. Photographs are often included in reports.

Search Tip:

While the NTSB reports are not searchable on the website, you can search the site with your favorite search engine by using the terms [aspect of accident, i.e, fatality, fire, etc] [mode of transportation] inurl:http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations. Here are a few examples that yield useful results:

fatality marine inurl:http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations
fire railroad inurl:http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations
fatality sleep highway inurl:http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations

Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam

Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam. Lt Gen Herman Nickerson, Jr., USMC (Ret). Occasional Paper. 1988. 93 pp.

(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18809306)
(Online: https://archive.org/details/LeadershipLessonsAndRemembrancesFromVietnam)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were Vietnam-era penalties for marijuana use?
  • Why could using discarded grenades be dangerous?
  • How did high ranking military officers view the struggle in VietNam?
  • Why would a general care whether a salute was given out of courtesy or fear?


According to the Foreward, this work is:

A series of articles that Lieutenant General Herman Nickerson, Jr., wrote in 1969-1970 while he was Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), which were published in Sea Tiger, the weekly newspaper distributed throughout the III MAF area of northern South Vietnam. General Nickerson commanded the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam from 1 October 1966 to 31 May 1967 and returned to that embattled country to command the III MAF from 27 March 1969 through 9 March 1970

The articles are presented chronologically, with no effort at grouping by theme. There is no index. However, the article titles are descriptive and represent a high level first person perspective on the Vietnam War and related topics. Some articles that might be helpful to writers describing attitudes include:

  • “Spirit of Patriots Seen in Servicemen,” July 4, 1969
  • “Civic Action: A Helping Hand,” July 25, 199
  • “Terror: When All Else Fails,” August 1, 1969 – References North VietCong terror
  • They’ll All Be Dead,” December 12, 1969 – Documents cases of preventable deaths caused by inattention.
  • “Discipline And Courtesy,” January 23, 1970
  • “Drug Abuse—The Price is High,” February 20, 1970

It is important to remember that this work is a work of opinion. These were articles intended to exhort Marines and their South Vietnamese allies in their fight against the Communist North.

United States Coast Guard Roll of Honor, April 6, 1917 – – November 30, 1918

United States Coast Guard Roll of Honor, April 6, 1917 – – November 30, 1918 – http://www.uscg.mil/history/docs/USCG_RollofHonor1918.pdf  (PDF link currently down, webmaster contacted 9/8/17)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How many US Coast Guard members died from Pneumonia during World War I?
  • Where can I find an act of personal bravery in Coast Guard service during World War I?
  • Where can I find people with no next of kin who died during World War I?


From the introduction: ”A list of officers and men who were killed in action or otherwise perished during the war and those decorated during the war — a supplement to the Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1919.”

This work is subdivided as follows:

  • List of Officers and Men
  • Killed in Combat with the Enemy – Entries list rank, date and place of death along with name and address of next of kin.
  • Died as Result of Accident, Collison, Drowning, etc – Entries list rank, type of death, sometimes with a sentence or two on how. Also includes name and address of next of kin.
  • Died from Natural Causes – Entries list rank, date and place of death along with name and address of next of kin.
  • List of Officers and Men Commended – All of the entries in the subsections below list list name, rank, assignment and date of action. Also includes comments regarding commendation that range from a sentence to a paragraph.
  • For Courageous and Heroic Action
  • For Efficient and Noteworthy Action
  • For Acts of Personal Bravery

Each section above is preceded by statistics on the number of officers and enlisted men in that area.

Lightning Strikes (NOAA) [Survivor Stories]

Lightning Strikes (NOAA) – http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/survivors.shtml

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are problems that a survivor of a lightning strike should expect to suffer?
  • Where are some unusual settings to be struck by lightning?


Have a character who was hit by lightning and lived? Check out this page to see what he or she might have gone through.

The dozen or so stories are not presented in any particular order and are not corroborated by NOAA staff. The table of stories includes the medical impacts the victim suffered and the situation in which a person was struck by lightning. Those situations include:

  • Hit while on cell phone attached by a cord to a charger.
  • Installing plumbing inside house
  • Hit while having lunch in a park
  • Home, calling husband on home telephone to warn him about the coming storm.
  • 911 Medical Dispatcher on duty in southern Florida

This page is a part of a larger site on lightning safety. If lightning plays a part in your story, it’s worth to review the other sections with special attention to the myths and facts page. My favorite – lightning can strike in the same place twice or more. According to the site, the Empire State Building is hit 100 times a year.

Knowledge – Official Safety Magazine of the US Army

Knowledge – Official Safety Magazine of the US Army – https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Knowledge.aspx  (Link down 9/8/17, webmaster notified)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What accidents seem typical in the Army?
  • How does the Army teach safety in various areas?
  • Why don’t more soliders wear their seatbelts?
  • What sorts of Army accidents can result in a broken leg?


2014 Update: This magazine seems to have been reformatted as a database and it now has its own search engine, but most of what’s below still applies. 

This monthly magazine covers military and civilian safety topics, often illustrated with accident stories. Stories published in 2011 included:

  • Just a Short Detour (Winter driving in unfamiliar territory)
  • Operator Distraction on the Airfield (Dangers of Texting)
  • Death in the High Country (ATV and backcountry safety)
  • Avoid ‘Smelling the Barn’ (Ammunition accident)

One of the last sections in every issue is “Accident briefs” which provide one to three  sentence descriptions of accidents that includes aviation mishaps by type of aircraft.

This magazine might generate story ideas or provide back story for military characters:

Search Tip:

If you are looking for a type of injury or class of accident, use this search in your favorite search engine:

[search words] iinurl:safety.army.mil/Media/Knowledge/

“broken leg”, “third degree burns”, “killed”, “crash”and “helicopter” seem to yield useful results.

Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries (OSHA)

Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries (OSHA) – http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/accidentsearch.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some ways that hot cooking oil can kill a character?
  • What are some ways that people can get injured or killed in cave-ins?
  • What are some ways that people can be injured or killed in telecom work?


From the website:

Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries, also known as Accident Investigation Summaries (OSHA 170 form), are developed after OSHA conducts an inspection in response to a fatality or catastrophe. The summaries provide a complete description of the incident, generally including events leading to the incident and causal factors. These summaries can be easily searched by keyword, text in the summary or accident description, event date, and industry (SIC). Information may also be obtained for specific investigation(s), (Insp Nr). Summaries currently available include completed investigations from 1984 through 1 year earlier than today’s date.

Despite the name of the database, this resource also covers injuries. Injuries and fatalities may also be browsed by keyword. Unlike Fatal Facts above, this resource has no sketches.

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia – http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How many people were killed by legally drunk drivers in 2010?
  • How many people have been killed in motorcycle accidents since 1994?
  • Are women likelier to be involved in alcohol-related car crashes?


Detailed accident statistics since 1994. Includes stats on accidents per miles driven. Trends section has detailed alcohol involved accident statistics based on blood alcohol level. Vehicles section offers statistics by type of manuver (i.e. U-turns, etc). People section provides information on age of victim, weather conditions, construction areas and more.

This site will be useful when quoting statistics or determining risks relative to other transportation modes.

Fatal facts (OSHA via Internet Archive)

Fatal facts (OSHA via Internet Archive) – http://web.archive.org/web/20120317113823/http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/toc_FatalFacts.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some plausible industrial accidents involving falls?
  • How can people be electrocuted on the job?
  • How can machinery kill people?


Former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) irregular newsletter now available through the Internet Archive. Also available in paper at many Federal Depository Libraries.

Every issue described a fatal accident whose legal issues have been resolved. Each newsletter has the following sections:

  • Accident Summary – Includes a sketch of the accident along with the accident type, weather conditions, employee job title, age & sex, experience at this type of work and time on project.
  • Brief Description of Accident – Usually a paragraph or so.
  • Inspection Results
  • Accident Prevention Recommendations
  • Sources of Help – includes links to regulations and training materials

Although the descriptions may only be a paragraph, they can still be fairly chilling as this description from “Fatal Facts #61” shows:

An employee was working in a trench 4 feet wide and 7 feet deep. About 30 feet away a backhoe was straddling the trench when the backhoe operator noticed a large chunk of dirt falling from the side wall behind the worker in the trench, he called out a warning. Before the worker could climb out, 6 to 8 feet of the trench wall had collapsed on him and covered his body up to his neck. He suffocated before the backhoe operator could dig him out.

There were no exit ladders. No sloping, shoring or other protective system had been used in the trench.

Might be inspirational for scenes or as backstory for characters who are safety activists. Browsing the newsletters would also be useful in answering questions like “Would it be plausible if …”

MedlinePlus Poisoning

MedlinePlus Poisoning – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/poisoning.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find a medical toxicologist?
  • What does mercury do to the brain and nervous system?
  • What are some natural ways you can be exposed to arsenic?
  • What information should you have in hand before calling the poison center?
  • What are the most common poisons resulting in death or hospitalization in the United States?


This MedlinePlus topic page offers information on types of poisonings and poison first aid. Some of the poisons covered here include

  • Ammonia
  • Arsenic
  • Black nightshade
  • Bug spray
  • Caladium plant
  • Copper
  • Detergent
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Lead
  • Mercury


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