Chicago Sun-Times

BRAC­ING FOR THE BIG BANG

With fire­works sales boom­ing and com­plaints sky­rock­et­ing, emer­gency re­spon­ders pre­pare for pos­si­ble uptick in in­juries this July Fourth

- BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23 Celebrations · Indiana · Illinois · Chicago Fire · Chicago Fire · Chicago Police Department · Illinois State University · Wisconsin · Genoa · United States of America · Larry Langford · Genoa City

Lila Zayas says her 40-year-old fire­works shop in In­di­ana, a mere 1.5 miles from the Illi­nois bor­der, has never been as busy as it has been the last few weeks.

“Peo­ple are bored of be­ing shut down at home [be­cause of the coro­n­avirus],” Zayas said of Smokeshop Fire­works’ cus­tomers — 70% of whom are from Illi­nois.

“They can­celed a lot of the pub­lic dis­plays this year. Peo­ple want to show a lit­tle bit more of their tra­di­tional Amer­i­can hol­i­day spirit and cel­e­brate.”

With the boom in fire­works sales in neigh­bor­ing states, can­cel­la­tions of shows and fire­works com­plaints up nearly 800% in Chicago from last year, emer­gency re­spon­ders are brac­ing for a pos­si­ble uptick in fire­works-re­lated in­juries on the Fourth of July.

The Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­ceived 3,791 calls re­port­ing fire­works com­plaints last week, com­pared with 423 calls in the same time pe­riod in 2019.

While the number of fire­work­sre­lated in­juries hasn’t risen sig­nif­i­cantly so far this year com­pared to last year, emer­gency work­ers are well aware peo­ple can get se­ri­ously hurt on the fes­tive sum­mer hol­i­day, Chicago Fire De­part­ment spokesman Larry Lang­ford said.

“The hol­i­day, we fear, may bring some in­jury be­cause the mar­ket seems to be flooded with com­mer­cial-grade fire­works since there aren’t any com­mer­cial shows going on,” Lang­ford said.

While the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment’s “pri­mary fo­cus” re­mains pre­vent­ing and re­spond­ing to vi­o­lent crime, of­fi­cers will re­spond to and in­ves­ti­gate all fire­works-re­lated calls.

Any­one re­port­ing a non-emer­gency in­volv­ing fire­works should call 311, re­serv­ing 911 calls for ac­tive threats, CPD spokeswoma­n Kel­lie Bar­toli said.

All fire­works, in­clud­ing sparklers, are il­le­gal in Chicago. But glow­worms, smoke bombs and party pop­pers are al­lowed. Any­one vi­o­lat­ing the city law faces a fine of $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

While sparklers are al­lowed out­side Chicago, us­ing any fire­work comes with the risk of in­jury, said Robert Wet­zel, fire safety com­pli­ance man­ager with the Illi­nois State Fire Mar­shal’s of­fice.

Most fire­works-re­lated in­juries af­fect peo­ple’s eyes, face or hands, Wet­zel said, stress­ing that rev­el­ers must make sure prod­ucts are in orig­i­nal pack­ages and la­beled for con­sumer use.

“No­body ever loses a lit­tle toe to a fire­work; you lose a fin­ger or an eye,” Wet­zel said. “Even the small­est fire­works can in­flict ma­jor in­jury.”

Deanna De­li­mat, who with hus­band Ti­mothy owns Black Bull Fire­works in Genoa City, Wis­con­sin, said she of­ten re­minds her mostly Illi­nois-based cus­tomers to keep fire­works on a flat sur­face and to have a hose ready in case of an emer­gency.

“Peo­ple want to cel­e­brate Amer­ica, so they’re do­ing it in their own back­yard in­stead of in a large group,” said De­li­mat, who noted her store has sold more large aerial fire­works this year than it has in the past. “Ev­ery­one should have the right to cel­e­brate the Fourth of July.”

 ?? SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO ?? Peo­ple watch as a fire­work goes off at a Fourth of July block party last year in the Pilsen neigh­bor­hood.
SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO Peo­ple watch as a fire­work goes off at a Fourth of July block party last year in the Pilsen neigh­bor­hood.

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