Friday, July 23, 2010

MIKE’S RANT OF THE MONTH – Commando Paintball’s [lack of] safety practices

I’m generally a pretty Zen, relaxed guy. But every once in a while, with no warning, I come across something that makes me angry...VERY angry. This conveniently happens around once a why not turn it into a monthly feature on Grey Ops?

The following opinions are mine alone, and don’t necessarily represent the views of Connor or any other writer on the Grey Ops team. Please direct all wrath, angry comments, law suits, and profanity towards myself (Mike), and spare all innocent parties.

Commando Paintball is a large paintball field operating in Navan, Ontario (in the Ottawa area). The owner, Dave Pitts, has been involved commercially with paintball for over 25 years, and seems to know what woodsballers want. He’s crammed his fields with dozens of real scrapped trucks & boats, towers, pillboxes, bridges, and other props. His park now boasts 10 working fields, each with its own theme and setting. This is in contrast with a lot of other fields in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, which feature woods & bunkers on one field, and more woods & bunkers on another.

So one would think that with all this going for the field, that customers could expect a fun and safe paintballing experience at Commando, right?


My first experience at Commando was in October 2009. The CSPO had organized a game there, and over 300 people had pledged to attend on the Facebook event page. The money raised from the game would go to support the field’s sponsored Speedball team, the Fishsticks.

Before attending, I researched the field. had a couple reviews up where people had complained about safety issues at the field, but the reviews were a couple years old. Also, the staff at the field had stormed the comments section of the review page, defending the field and their current safety practices. I figured they were probably serious about safety now, and decided to give them a chance.

So a buddy and I came out, plunked down our money for admission and paint, and went to gear up. The first sign that something was wrong was when I went to find a chrono station. They did have a target range near the main shack, but there was no big red chrono there like most fields have. I asked some staff members about this, and they said they had a handheld chrono that was floating around somewhere, and that they’d try to find it. By the time the game had started, no one had located it. I’d chrono’d my marker to a safe velocity a week prior at another game, and hadn’t taken my marker apart since, so I figured mine was safe and went to play. But what about the other markers out there?

Out on the fields, I also wasn’t impressed. Far less than 300 people had shown up to this not-so-Big-Game (around 30), and even with such a small group to keep an eye on, the staff were extremely nonchalant when it came to safety. Players constantly entered the deadbox without a barrel cover on, prompting my friend and I to tell them to put one on. This was the staff’s job, not ours, so why did it fall on us to get people to follow basic paintball safety practices?? There were also several times when we were told by the refs that it was ok to remove our masks in the open between games, and often people around us would start test-firing their markers or target shooting. The staff members usually said nothing to these knuckleheads, until we had to point out to them (facing away from the live markers) that there were about 20 people with masks off in the vicinity.

Throughout all this, the family dog Rusty, who is quite a large animal by the way, would occasionally run after players and bark at them, both during the breaks AND during play with live markers. He was extremely aggressive with one player during a break, and that player became very angry and yelled at the staff to keep him under control. At the staging area we also watched the territorial dog run towards cars, barking as they came down the driveway towards the parking area.

The most flagrant safety violation I saw that day was yet to come, however. Commando was so large that it had its own mobile air station, consisting of compressed air cylinders on the bed of a pickup truck. That way, players could air up without having to walk a kilometre back to the main shack. During the break the driver of the truck got together with the other staff members, sat on the air tanks, and drank three beers with them while smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. So, the issue of driving a truck full of bombs while under the influence of alcohol aside, this staff member had an open flame near compressed air tanks pressurized at 3000 pounds per square inch! Not to mention the staff members were boozing it up with him, when it was their job to maintain safety (and their senses) at the field!

As a lesser issue, the paintballs at Commando seemed to hit like Wal-Mart paint. I’m a big boy and can take pain, and I’ve been hit with plenty of paintballs, but getting hit with Commando’s paint was like getting hit with a nail gun! The paint used there was Draxxus Field, and I’ve been hit with Field at many establishments, such as CQB Tactical Paintball, Arnold Paintball Indoor, and Ottawa X-Treme Paintball. The impacts were never as bad at these fields, so unless everyone was firing a “hot” marker (above safe velocity) that day, then there was definitely an issue with paintball age/freshness or storage methods. Surely storing them all summer in a hot wooden shack could lead to hardening, so this might be what’s going on. Of course the sting I felt from the hits was subjective, so take that for what it’s worth.

To make a long story short, although I had fun that day, with the safety violations I saw, I was extremely reluctant to ever go back to Commando.

New year, new web site, new field, same-old same-old

To celebrate the completion of their new D-Day field, Commando held their first ever D-Day Big Game on July 18, 2010. A few weeks ahead of the game, I visited their web site, and found it completely re-vamped and professional-looking. They had a slick new HD video on their home page showing a battle at their D-Day field, which they obviously invested some money into making. I thought that perhaps Commando had turned over a new leaf and cleaned up their act, and I decided to give them another shot at D-Day.

Well I can tell you that in 9 months, not much has changed. Before the game, there was no safety briefing. However, Dave yelled loud and clear to everyone that if they’d brought their own marker, they’d have to chrono it before playing. With about 200 players there that day, most with their own markers, I found only myself and about 20 others making our way to the "voluntary" chrono session. The enforcement of any velocity rules was nonexistent!

Granted, there was no loose dog running around this time, and the staff didn’t have beer cans in-hand between games, but the paint issue was still there. Rock-hard Draxxus Field balls were bouncing off of everybody, leaving broken skin and welts. At times it was ridiculous; at one point I was in a defensive position at the top of the hill, and an attacker popped up from lower ground and started running towards my bunker. I shot him twice from about 10-15 feet away, and both balls hit him squarely in the torso and fell to the ground, intact! We may as well have been shooting each other with marbles!

I really don’t bruise easily, and usually the worst I come home with after a day of balling is a few small horseshoe-shaped red marks on my skin. At this game however, I took some hits to the arm from about 30 feet away, and my entire upper arm turned purple and black the day after, then yellow from then on. This is my arm 6 days later, after some healing. The daylight and camera flash washed out a lot of the yellow colour, but believe me it looks BAD (and it used to look a lot worse). The entire surface of my arm, from elbow to shoulder, is a jaundiced yellow:

I work with the public in short sleeves, and if this was the usual result of a hit in paintball, I’d have to give up the game altogether. This wasn’t just my experience by the way, as I saw many other players with broken & bleeding skin, and huge welts. One buddy of mine took his shirt off at the end of the day to change, and what I saw looked more leopard than human!

Now of course I may have been hit by someone with a hot marker to get this kind of damage, but seeing as how these brutal hits were pretty common among the participants, I’m more apt to blame the field paint. Or it could be both!

Throwing down the gauntlet

Let’s get down to it: Dave Pitts, you need to get your act together! After so many years in the business, you really should know better. From what I and my friends have personally seen, we can’t chalk this up to an innocent mistake. This is plain negligence!

Start educating your staff on proper safety procedures, and make sure they’re followed by the players. Give a proper safety briefing to players before setting them loose to play, especially since a lot of them are just young kids who probably don’t know any better. As a field operator you know that insurance for paintball fields is dicey; it’s expensive as hell, and ironically if you ever have to file a claim with your insurer, you might as well close your field down because no one else will insure you. On top of that, you didn’t even have people sign waiver forms at the Big Game, leaving you wide open to liability! Your operation must pull in at least half a million dollars a year, so don’t risk losing it all because someone using a hot marker and hard field paintballs shoots through another player’s lens.

Which brings us to the paint...Your field charges more for a case of paint than any other operator in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. At least give players quality in return! You need to upgrade to a better grade of paint, or sink some of that money into a temperature-controlled trailer or commercial refrigerator to keep the cheap stuff from hardening in the heat.

Once you’ve got the paint taken care of, get yourself a proper paintball chronometer to make sure they fly at a safe velocity. A cheap handheld one is fine for outlaw games, or for a paintball shop fixing and testing markers, but a real field should have a real chronometer set up at the target range (the X-Radar red metal standalone ones used by most fields).

A better future?

Commando Paintball is a fantastic facility, offering an excellent, well-thought out variety of playing fields. It’s already huge, and has the potential to get even better. Of course, none of this matters if an accident ends up shutting the place down.

I personally want to see Commando do well, and clean up its act. The field is only 10 minutes away from my home, and as I have no “home field” this season it would be the perfect place to get a membership and spend my paintball dollars at every weekend. I have friends in the area who are currently considering becoming members too, because of its design and convenience. But in its current state of management I can’t recommend it to anyone, and in fact recommend that people avoid it. I hope that this rant makes Dave and others take notice, and pull everything together to make Commando reach its potential as a truly awesome field.



  1. I'd like to add a couple things I observed:

    - The paintball tank in use the day I was there lacked any kind of barrel blocking device, and had its fully automatic turret pointed right at eye level during down time in the staging area.
    - I saw a lot of very large HPA tanks with no lashings whatsoever, which could be because they were empty, but that still makes me very very uneasy.
    - I have the same kind of jaundiced welts Mike talked about, and in my job I deal with the public with NO sleeves, so needless to say I've gotten a few comments.

    I'd love to see Commando take on more of a safety focus, as I had a great time when I was there and met lots of great people. But it makes me uneasy to think about returning knowing that myself or others could be seriously injured or worse because of a lack of safety precautions. Our sport is a vulnerable one in the public eye, and any kind of incident, big or small, affects how we as a group are seen.

    I look forward to next month's episode of Mike's Rant.

  2. I love this RANT - don't worry Mike & Connor, i was at D-Day too & yes the paint hurt real bad.

    - I've been playing pball for 2yrs
    - Started playing at Commando last year & played at that location for about 9-10 time
    . Brought many people i know to that location & here's my review:

    *The paint has always been Draxus Field paint & overpriced then the rest (average price is 80$ to 100$ a case of Draxus Bronze or better)(Commando sell a case at 120$ non-members - 80$ members - Draxus Eco Field paint or Training paint). Last year membership was 100$, now this year 150$... free play & lower the paint cost about 40% (but cannot share it with non-members).

    The last 2 time I've been there, July 10 & 18th... the paint HURT so much, playing with rocks would have hurt less. NO more of that yellow stuff Dave, it hurts to much. I still have whelps from D-Day.

    *Safety is a BIG issue - I agree on this one, many many many time we have to scream "Barrel socks on!!" when catching a new player get in the Deadbox with his/her gun no plugged. Or "Mask on!!" during play when dead player walk back to the deadbox with no mask on. Staff not enforcing safety rules shouldn't happen & need to be seriously be checked.

    *Staff drinking beer while working - Yes it happen to me too, during play & during break.

    *Staff no being professional - At D-Day, we ask a ref what was the objective... "euh i don't know?" calls another ref, same response - TRAINING!! "Ref - were the tape line!!" "There's no tape, that bush is the tape line!!"

    * Lack of communication between staff (too much assumption - How many time we walked around the fields trying to find an empty fields - we paid to play not to walk for 45mins looking for a spot - the home base should know at all time, who is were... or even simpler, pre-determine rotation like golf, 2 rounds on field #1 then to the next field on to the next.

    * NO required Chrono Check or Waiver form - 3 out 10 times I've played there I could find the waiver forms & was asked to fill it up. NONE of the 10 times i was required to chrono my gun. That's how bad it is.

    Bottom line - It's a great field, but god dam it need to get back to reality. I've promised all my groups that we will play at a much safer place & that they will enjoy their time better.

  3. Commando was the beginning of paint ball for me. Now that I have been playing for over a year and half I have experienced many more fields in the Ottawa and Quebec regions. I do enjoy commando because they have great fields, usually awesome folks as well but the only problem personally I find is the staff and safety.

    I always find that some of the staff are these bored teenagers who just stand around and really don’t move. I always see them just standing in one spot waiting for the game to be over. I don’t see any of that aggressive reffing where they will run over and yell at you to put your mask back on. And the same with in the box, tons of new players just being un responsible and walking in without a barrel sock. And the ref just takes a seat and waits until everyone done chatting and goes back out for a game. When I see a player come into the box without a sock on I’m the one yelling at them to put it back on. I wear my mask at all times anyways in the box because it’s too much of a risk to take it off there. I don’t mean to startle them but hey I don’t want to lose a god damn eye.

    Just to compare, at Paintstorm and Paradise you see the refs making sure all markers are chrono before anyone hits the field. The refs will yell at a kid because they just slip off that mask slightly. It’s a bit more strict at those places but Commando seems to be who cares if anyone loses an eye. I’m not saying the refs do a bad job at commando there are some aggressive ones there too, just some of them need to be a little bit more louder. I mean way louder. I don’t know when the game has started because the ref is so quiet.

    And I agree with the paint. It’s as if it just sits in it’s case for 2 years in a basement, and it’s not a good introduction to someone starting paint ball when it hurts more than it should.
    I think commando Dave is an good guy just needs to get some nicer paint and make sure all those refs give a more detailed briefing.

    - Tiberius Lady

  4. If no one is checking speed, all those hard shots probably have more to do with being hit at 380 fps+, not just the old paint.

  5. Thanks for the comments gents!

    @ Darsis High FPS builds character but doesn't make friends.

  6. Someone was nice enough to bring this article to our attention and appreciated the opportunity to comment. Your rant was very well written and well thought out and since you have chosen to provide your comments in a public, albeit obscure forum, I shall respond in the same manner.

    You are correct for the most part in your observations concerning the issues at Commando Paintball. Dave is passionate about paintball and has painstakingly created a substantial playground for enthusiasts and amateurs alike. Commando has become so well known and grown so rapidly that the appropriate business processes have not been put in place.

    We have been working extremely hard over the past year to improve the safety, service and reputation at Commando Paintball and are aware there is still a lot work ahead of us to continue to improve. Marked Paintball, JT's Frontline, X-Treme and Hopperz were all kind enough to provide us insight into their businesses and for that we are grateful. Each field has their own battles to fight (in addition to working full time jobs) and do not need to battle each other.

    I will not pretend to know anything about paintball, however, I have brought an important perspective to Commando…that of the consumer. People enjoy this sport and want to feel that they are receiving good value for their hard-earned money. I am a parent of two teenaged boys who love this sport and I could spend my money at any paintball field.

    In addition, I roam the fields at Commando just about every weekend armed only with a camera and half-gogs knowing full well the marks and pain caused by paintballs on bare skin and if I put myself in this position, I accept the consequences.

    I was not at the field the day you and Mr. Roux were present, and I hope you were able to use the pass to the Tippman challenge that you won. We are sorry that your experiences were less than pleasant, but understand that your future will not include Commando Paintball.


  7. "public, albeit obscure forum"

    Subtle... Not quite right though... Grey Ops is one of the best Milsim Blogs on the internet right now.

    IMO, based on their collective experiance and paintball knowledge, you 'Might' want to give their concern the time and self questioning that it merits.


  8. Marie,

    Thanks for your comments, and it's nice to know someone from Commando got to hear this. Please understand the title of this piece and what I'm specifically talking about. This was not a rant on "Commando Paintball", but on "Commando Paintball's Safety Practices". I feel that once your field gets these practices taken care of, there will be nothing left to stop it from completely dominating the Ottawa-Gatineau paintball scene.

    First and foremost among these in my mind, more important than the loose dog or the staff boozing it up, are the paintball quality and velocity issues. You state that you accept the consequences of getting hit by a paintball on bare skin, but note that the bruises and lacerations in the photo above were from hits taken while I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, and were not on bare skin! I don't play in short sleeves, to avoid getting scratched up by branches, scraping my elbows when going prone, etc. Also, just today I was talking with a friend of mine for the first time since the game, and when I brought up the paint issue he also said he had some bad bruising from that game that took an abnormally long time to go away (2 weeks). You see this also in the comments left by Grey Ops readers above - so I'm not some lone nut screaming in the wilderness.

    You admit your knowledge of paintball is limited, so believe me when I tell you that bleeding hits, and bruising spreading all over a limb from a paintball hit not at point blank range, are definitely ABNORMAL in this game. It means either the paint is too hard due to age or exposure to different temperature extremes, or the guns are shooting too fast/"hot". Because Commando is very popular, and has a lot of publicity through radio, word of mouth, etc, a lot of first-timers will be hit by their first paintball at your field. Whether they ever come back to play again will depend on the after-effects of getting hit. Getting this issue taken care of should be priority number one for Commando, not just for safety reasons, but for the sake of repeat business.

    Due to my work schedule and the fact that none of my friends were able to attend either, the Tippmann Challenge ticket I won was given free of charge to "Eric", a player from Quebec who was parked next to me at the game. I'm sure he enjoyed it, and appreciated PBL donating it to the draw for promotional purposes. Now, given the fact that you weren't there that day, no one asked me my name when I collected the prize, and the ticket I turned in to get it was crumpled up and thrown out, the only way you would have known who won that prize would be if someone there that day who knows me personally told you. Given that this is a very short list, I have a good idea of who that is, but I can't say I understand his motives though. I'll assume also that this was the same person that brought this article on our obscure blog to your attention.

    Anyway, I wish you and Dave all the best in your improvements, and future business endeavours. Whether I agree with things that go on at Commando or not, the truth is that success for any field benefits and grows the Ottawa-Gatineau paintball community as a whole.

  9. Thank you Mike...please don't question anyone that knows you. I have a computer and I know how to use it and was able to piece it together easily on my own.

    The person that sent us the article does not know you personally either. We need this type of information and appreciate it being brought to our attention, no matter the medium.