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 month...so 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. PBReview.com 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.