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Illegal fireworks On Rise In CT Towns As Cooped-Up Residents Blow Off Steam

Illegal fireworks On Rise In CT Towns As Cooped-Up Residents Blow Off Steam

Hartford Courant, June 17, 2020

By Christine Dempsey

After being cooped up for three months under COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, some state residents can’t wait to go out and blow off steam — and blow up fireworks.

Rather than wait for Fourth of July celebrations that may not happen, people in Hartford-area towns and cities have been lighting up the night skies with their own illegal firework shows, police say, sometimes in the middle of the night.

“Every night?” New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart asked on Facebook. “Why?” 

Calling the nightly displays “a big problem,” she urged residents to call police with the address and officers will pay violators a visit. Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, Glastonbury and Vernon are among the other places that have had more fireworks complaints this year, and Independence Day is still 2 ½ weeks away. 

In Manchester, fireworks complaints have increased from three in the first half of June last year to 79 complaints in the same period this year, with one citation issued, police spokesman Lt. Ryan Shea said. 

Many times, the source of fireworks cannot be determined, Shea said, but police take the complaints seriously and ask that anyone who knows where fireworks are being launched from, or the identity of those possessing illegal fireworks, call police at 860-645-5500. 

“We cannot speculate on the reasons for the increase in fireworks related complaints, but certainly given the current conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation or postponement of fireworks events, the public may be looking to put on their own displays,” Shea said. 

Vernon police had only one fireworks complaint last year between June 1 and June 15, said Lt. William Meier. This year, they have already fielded 20. 

Glastonbury police went from two complaints between March 15 and June 15 last year to nine this year, Lt. Corey Davis said. 

Deena Williams, who lives in a high-rise next to the Connecticut River in East Hartford, said her family members hear fireworks every night. 

They also see them, thanks to their birds-eye view of Hartford. One illegal display was on the west riverbank, below Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, she said. Another appeared to be in Bushnell Park. Three others were to the north.  

Some fireworks were fired off about 11 p.m., she said. The riverbank fireworks were blasted at 1 a.m.  

“I hope Hartford police apprehend the culprits soon,” she said.  

Challenges for Hartford back to top

Hartford’s problem is serious enough that the heads of the city police and fire departments are getting together this week to plan how to better crack down on fireworks scofflaws, Lt. Paul Cicero said. He didn’t have an exact number of complaints. 

“We’ve seen a large influx of complaints. It started late April,” he said. “It’s a big nuisance to the city residents.”  

Cicero said more people might be buying their own fireworks because many municipalities have canceled their fireworks displays. While most canceled because of the coronavirus, Riverfest in Hartford pulled the plug on its annual display in February because of the cost and crowd control problems. 

In addition to disturbing children and people with post-traumatic stress disorder, illegal fireworks are dangerous, Cicero said. They can cause fires, and they can injure people. He cited the case of Carlos Santana, a city teen who lost two fingers after he picked up homemade fireworks in 2018.  

Over the state line, Boston and Springfield have also seen a rise in illegal fireworks.  

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told reporters during a news conference last week that the city went from 27 calls about fireworks in May of 2019 to more than 600 this year.  

“People are frightened; people are losing sleep; babies and kids are woken up; pets are terrified; our veterans and others with PSTD are experiencing real harm, and it’s a real fire hazard in our city,” Walsh said. 

William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, which has stores in New Hampshire — a few hours from Connecticut — told Boston Magazine the company has been encouraging customers to buy fireworks earlier this year because their showrooms are operating at a lower capacity due to the coronavirus. At least one fireworks company has a billboard advertising its products on I-91 near Hartford. Cicero said generally, anything that has a fuse, explodes and/or is propelled into the air is illegal under Connecticut law. Sparklers, handheld burning sticks that throw off sparks, and fountains, which are like giant sparklers that sit on the ground and spray upward, are legal if used by people in the right age range. 

It’s illegal for someone younger than 16 to hold a sparkler, he said.