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5 Major Safety Tips for Wedding Planning – Or How to Avoid a Trip to the ER on Your Big Day

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

It’s important to plan a SAFE wedding. That sounds strange, right? But if you’ve seen some of the things I’ve seen — or even better, if you’ve happened to see some of the more dangerous wedding bloopers on YouTube, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Oh yes, wedding guests can end up in the hospital from stupid stunts. And sometimes it’s the brides or grooms who need stitches. Let’s try to avoid that, shall we?

The funny thing is that I know what’s safe and what’s not. I’ve planned hundreds of weddings of all different kinds and there’s not a whole lot that hasn’t happened while I was working with brides and grooms. Using this base of knowledge (often triggering PTSD about certain weddings), I advise my clients away from doing things or creating situations in which a member of the wedding party, a guest or the staff may be injured. And let’s not forget about the wedding venue itself — when things are damaged or broken, it costs the bride and groom a LOT of money.

At the risk of seeming like a killjoy, I’ve put together a list of the five safety issues I worry about most at weddings with the reasons I fear them and tips for ways to make them safer:

1) Don’t play with fire. Asian fire lanterns, specifically, have been all the rage for just over a year and they are a huge problem. I blame it on the episode of “Deadliest Catch” where they used them to freak out another boat, but there are pictures of them at weddings all over Pinterest and Instagram. They are not permitted at my weddings. Our venues don’t allow them, and in most places in the Caribbean, you’re breaking the law by setting something aflame that will land someplace an endangered species (like a baby turtle) might try to eat it. I don’t care how “environmentally friendly” they purport to be in their advertisements — nothing biodegrades immediately. Fuel cells assembled by tiny hands in China and sold to you for just a couple of dollars a pop cannot be made of the most earth-friendly materials. And almost everywhere you’re getting married, there’s a breeze.

While I’ve never permitted those lanterns to be released at any of my weddings (and I’ve had some throw-downs with well-meaning guests who brought them — the brides and grooms know they’re against the rules), I can tell you a couple of true stories about weddings that released them on our island. Or perhaps I should just interview the fire chief because he’s had to respond to the call almost every single time. You see, there’s usually a breeze off the water on an island like this. And most places in the world where you’d be having an outdoor wedding. That means these giant balls of fire go up, up and then back and over your head and over the wedding venue. Or onto it. Or across the yard and onto the roof of a neighbor. No bueno. The one that didn’t take off properly and created a full-on burning bush at the W Hotel is probably the funniest one I’ve seen video of, but really, it’s not funny. This is a tiny island with one fire house and putting flaming things into the air with no control about where they land is irresponsible and stupid. There are tons of YouTube videos about epic fire lantern fails and they’re all more scary than amusing. Many states and jurisdictions are banning them.

2) Fireworks must be carefully controlled. We ONLY have fireworks at weddings when we’ve hired a professional company to perform them, and we’ve gotten the permits and additional insurance riders for the property. NEVER let a well-meaning guest start shooting off bottle rockets or other over-the-counter fireworks at a wedding reception. Like the fire lanterns above, you don’t know where they’re going to land. Or who they may hit. It’s all fun and games until somebody takes a firework in the face. And then it’s a Medivac ride to the big island to find a good plastic surgeon. Sparklers are a workable alternative and we do special tunnels of them for wedding farewells on a somewhat regular basis. However, I must caution you that very, very drunk people are dangerous with those big long “wedding sparklers” that are so trendy and fun. They burn FOREVER and you can dance under them and get amazing photos, but we always have our staff strategically placed with buckets of water to take them out of partygoers’ hands the minute they die out. Seems grownups have forgotten what it feels like to step on a hot sparkler in bare feet on the beach. Ouch!

3) Swimming pools and open access to beaches must be controlled. Beaches are really only an issue if you’ve got small, not-well-supervised children roaming loose — so if you’re going to have kids at a waterfront wedding, you need to consider having babysitters on hand to keep them safe and corralled. Swimming pools are a far bigger menace. Start with the fact that you should NEVER have glass beverage-ware anywhere near a swimming pool because at every wedding, drunk guests drop their drinks while dancing. And half of them are barefoot. But that’s not the only concern.

Most beautiful villa swimming pools are not deep. That means that it’s completely insane for drunk wedding guests to attempt to dive, flip or push people into the pool during the party. But it happens. There’s no lifeguard on duty to yell “STOP RUNNING ON THE POOL DECK” or blow their whistle and order “NO DIVING!” But sometimes, I swear to God, I have to actually stop the music at a reception and take the microphone to make these sorts of announcements. I jokingly remind them our hospital isn’t equipped to handle traumas and that it would be a rotten way to remember the wedding, and most of the time, guests laughingly comply. But there have been exceptions to the rule — always because the guests are so inebriated that they’re out of control — and we’ve seen heads smacked on the side of the pool and other things that could have easily resulted in full paralysis if the idiot who did it hadn’t been so incredibly lucky. It’s fine for the wedding party and guests to get silly and jump in the pool if that’s what the bride and groom want to see at their wedding, but everybody has to be safe and behave like they would at a wedding so it doesn’t become an episode of “Guests Gone Wild.” Don’t be surprised to see bare butts and boobs on occasion when everyone takes the splash. Straight up – gay weddings tend to become the most outrageous!

4) Always use a sturdy platform for activities. Has anybody NOT seen the videos of various weddings on docks that collapsed midway through the ceremony? It happens several times a year. Sometimes they just get wet, other times there’s an ambulance involved after the disaster. Regardless, everyone is soaked and the rest of your wedding pictures are screwed. Especially if the photographer or videographer went in the drink along with your wedding party. You must be certain a wooden deck is strong enough to hold your guest load. I’ve had to tell clients they couldn’t have dance parties in certain venues or on certain decks many times because we don’t need an incident like all those porches that collapsed and killed people in Chicago a few years ago. That’s what I always envision. Any dance floor you’re building (in a yard or on a beach) must be sturdy and safe enough for the guests. If a vendor tells you something isn’t safe, don’t argue or try to get around it. They’d be happy to charge you for whatever the item is but they’re not willing to let you get hurt just to make a buck. Too much liability all around.

5) Chair dances at Jewish weddings can be treacherous. Done well, they’re awesome! But more couples are having interfaith marriages now than ever before and that means you don’t have a room full of Jewish men  who all know how to actually do the dance. There isn’t a wedding planner in the world who doesn’t inwardly cringe when the music for the Hora starts. Suddenly, you have a mix of really inebriated (Jewish and not) guys hoisting the brides and grooms (yes, now it’s sometimes two brides or two grooms) up into the air on chairs, usually very unsteadily. Most of the time, it’s done over a hard surface like a marble floor or concrete deck and if the brides or grooms fall, they will get hurt.

You have to plan it out. You must have gentlemen who are approximately the same height and strong enough for all four corners of each chair. And you have to pick out the chairs in advance and have them waiting on hand for the big moment. The most organized group of guys can’t keep the brides from landing on their butts if the chair collapses mid-lift. I’ve probably coordinated the chair dance 100 times now without significant incident but it still freaks me out completely til both halves of the couple are back on the ground safely.

I bet some of you think I’m a huge party pooper now that you’ve read this. Seems like I just want to take the fun out of everything, doesn’t it? But that’s not true. I want the wedding to be flawless and lots of fun. And there’s absolutely nothing fun about doing an emergency room run during the wedding. Especially when the injury is a result of something really dumb that could have easily been avoided.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Sandy Malone Weddings & Events! And please stay safe!

Sandy Malone is an experienced destination wedding planner, a syndicated wedding columnist, and the self-proclaimed "Queen of Gay Wediquette"

Sandy Malone is an experienced destination wedding planner, a syndicated wedding columnist, and the self-proclaimed “Queen of Gay Wediquette”

Sandy Malone is the owner of Weddings in Vieques, a full-service destination wedding planning company based on Vieques Island, seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. She is also the star of TLC’s reality wedding show “Wedding Island.” Sandy and her team (including her husband Bill, a retired SWAT team commander) have planned and executed almost 400 weddings in the Spanish Virgin Islands. Sandy is a veteran event planner from Washington, DC, with years of experience planning large and small weddings, press conference, and corporate and political events. She has planned countless events on Vieques Island, beginning with her own wedding back in 2004. Since that time, her professional staff has executed large and small weddings of all styles, including elopements, vow renewals and fabulously posh events at multi-million dollar waterfront villas. She has also planned family reunions, destination baby showers, corporate retreats and a variety of other events for clients from all over the United States and Canada. Sandy is also the owner of Weddings in Culebra (wedding planning on Vieques’ little sister island), and Flowers in Vieques (a full service floral and décor firm). Sandy has regular columns in The Huffington Post and BRIDES and has been rated “Five Rainbows” by her happy gay clients!  Follow Sandy on Twitter @SandyMalone_ and @WeddingsinVQS and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SandyMaloneWIV.