As fireworks sales boom, officials brace for Fourth of July

With the boom in fireworks sales, fireworks complaints and cancellations of shows, emergency responders are bracing for a possible uptick in fireworks-related injuries this weekend.

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A safety display case shows sparkler safety at BoomTown Fireworks in Hobart, Ind., Friday, June 28, 2013. Tom O’Connor, the own of BoomTown Fireworks, stresses the importance of using fireworks in a safe maner. | Taylor Irby~For Sun-Times Media

A safety display case shows sparkler safety at BoomTown Fireworks in Hobart, Ind. Sparklers are illegal within Chicago city limits.

Taylor Irby for the Sun-Times

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 fireworks-related 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.”

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