Tired of the constant blasts of fireworks at night in recent weeks, and then learning others across the city have had similar complaints, a Mount Airy woman has formed a group to lobby to make consumer fireworks illegal in Philadelphia.
Jean Gajary, 54, said the explosive sounds terrified her dog, a rat terrier named Tres, a key reason she started her Fireworks Task Force.
She said she’s also heard from a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and about people with heart conditions who have been terrorized by the loud noises. People have left the city to get a good night’s sleep in a hotel, she said. About 90 people, including a South Philadelphia police officer, have joined the group, she said Monday.
“My guess is we’ve all been in lockdown, and now summer’s here,” Gajary said, “and people don’t have a lot of things to do, and there’s pent-up frustration.”
According to Philadelphia police statistics, people made 947 calls related to fireworks, bombs, or other explosions from May 29 to June 21.
Some people are “not sure if they’re hearing fireworks or gunshots,” Gajary said. An officer on the task force told her “they’re overwhelmed” by calls, she said, and that sometimes calls about gunshots turn out to be fireworks instead.
The fireworks industry said it is experiencing record sales this summer.
Another possible reason for the rash of complaints: The state legalized the purchase and use of “consumer-grade fireworks” — including firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and similar fireworks — in October 2017, but it wasn’t until last year that Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill into law allowing the use of “consumer fireworks” in the city.
Fireworks have been a problem in at least one suburban township, too.
“Just 50 last night, probably hundreds for the month,” Cheltenham Township Police Chief John Frye said by email Monday. “All hours, even during the day.”
Cheltenham, which borders the city on the north, prohibits consumer fireworks from being set off between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
There has been some speculation by area residents and nationwide, including in New York, that an increase in fireworks in the weeks before July Fourth has been an expression of protest over the May 25 killing of George Floyd.
Philadelphia city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco said city officials with whom she checked were not aware of any connection between fireworks being set off in the city and Floyd’s killing.
Gajary said that in Mount Airy, the sound of fireworks has been starting about 7 p.m. and ending about midnight. Other people have told her they start as early as 5 p.m. and end around 2 a.m. in their neighborhoods.
“I think there is a lot of steam people are blowing off” after Floyd’s killing, she said.
She said the task force is a diverse group from all over the city. “The noise, the stress, is not just impacting privileged white people,” she said. “We all have ears.”
Cofrancisco said by email Monday: “While we certainly appreciate the concerns — and have heard from residents about fireworks going off in residential neighborhoods — there are limits to what we are allowed to enforce.”
Around the summer months, and “especially around the Juneteenth and the Fourth of July holidays, communities traditionally celebrate with fireworks,” she noted.
The Fire Code prohibits the use of consumer fireworks within 150 feet of occupied properties, making detonating firecrackers and bottle rockets essentially illegal in densely packed Philadelphia, she said.
She asked residents who observe high-explosive fireworks or those close to occupied properties, or who wish to report a late-night noise violation, to call 911 or their local police district.