Why police, safety advocates have more concerns about fireworks this year

  • Fireworks outlawed in Illinois can be bought legally just across the border in Wisconsin, and that has suburban police and safety experts especially worried this year, with most festival and municipal displays called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Fireworks outlawed in Illinois can be bought legally just across the border in Wisconsin, and that has suburban police and safety experts especially worried this year, with most festival and municipal displays called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul Valade/pvalade @dailyherald.com, 2018

 
Updated 6/26/2020 6:09 AM

With COVID-19 stamping out most Independence Day fireworks shows in the suburbs this year, there's plenty of temptation out there for people to put on their own pyrotechnics displays to celebrate the occasion.

In fact, police in some towns -- and hundreds of complaints on social media -- say many have gotten an early start on the festivities, interrupting our quiet summer nights with window-rattling booms and ear-piercing screeches.

 

And that has suburban law enforcement and safety advocates worried about what's to come.

"We expect this year there's going to be excessive use of fireworks," Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko told us this week. "Generally when there are no fireworks displays, private people bring in the big stuff."

That was the case eight years ago when a summer drought led many towns to cancel or postpone their Fourth of July shows, said Filenko, whose town is just a 30-minute drive to Wisconsin and legally purchased fireworks.

"You can step over the border and get whatever you want," he said.

Elgin is among the cities already seeing a big spike in fireworks complaints. Police on Tuesday said they'd received 225 complaints since June 1 -- more than 10 a day. During the same time frame last year, they received 25 complaints.

In response, the police department has special detail officers responding to fireworks complaints from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. So far this month, they've issued six warning tickets and 12 citations.

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And it's not just those shooting off fireworks who face fines -- if police find evidence of fireworks being detonated on a property, its owner can be cited. Fines range from $100 to $750.

"We know this is a difficult time of the year for parents of young children, pet owners and our veterans," police said in a Facebook post. "We are here to work with our community and address these complaints to the best of our abilities."

Police in Rolling Meadows issued a similar warning this week, saying violators could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

"The reality is we cannot catch everyone, but we do catch several every year and they are dealt with," police said.

Other departments we spoke to -- including Lake Zurich and Mundelein -- say they haven't seen a surge in complaints yet, but they expect them to come as the holiday nears.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I do anticipate an increase due to the lack of municipal displays," Lake Zurich Chief Steve Husak said.

Safety experts say more people setting off fireworks at home to celebrate Independence Day this year will almost certainly lead to more injuries. "When things go bad with fireworks, they go bad terribly," said Mike Figolah, former Mount Prospect fire chief and past president of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance.
Safety experts say more people setting off fireworks at home to celebrate Independence Day this year will almost certainly lead to more injuries. "When things go bad with fireworks, they go bad terribly," said Mike Figolah, former Mount Prospect fire chief and past president of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance. - Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg, 2014
More than a nuisance

For most of us, backyard fireworks displays are just an annoyance we live with for a few days every summer. But they can create severe stress and anxiety for veterans and our pets, and safety experts say they're far more dangerous than people believe, particularly for children.

Mike Figolah, the former Mount Prospect fire chief and past president of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, told us Thursday that 45% of those injured by fireworks every year are children under 12 years old. They're curious enough to get too close and not agile enough to get out of the way when something goes wrong.

"When things go bad with fireworks, they go bad terribly," Figolah said.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were about 10,000 fireworks-related injuries that required a visit to the ER last year, and 73% of them took place between June 21 and July 21.

Sparklers were the number one cause of injuries, half of them involving children younger than 5. At least 12 people died.

Figolah said it's almost certain that more fireworks at home will mean more injuries this year.

"Our position has always been to leave the fireworks to the professionals," he said. "Unfortunately, with COVID-19, there aren't as many professional displays, and people are taking it into their own hands."

COVID-19 in your water?

With the weather warmer and the days longer, solicitors knocking on your door selling windows, gutter repair, pest control or some other service may be more common. And while the vast majority are legit, police say it's a good idea to know the signs of a scam.

COVID-19 in Arlington Heights' water supply? No, but that's the ruse burglars are using to get into houses, police say.
  COVID-19 in Arlington Heights' water supply? No, but that's the ruse burglars are using to get into houses, police say. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2019

One sign? Visitors claiming they need to check your water supply for COVID-19.

Police in Arlington Heights say that was the scheme behind a pair of "ruse" burglaries during the past two weeks. According to police, two men knocked on residents' doors posing as water department employees and saying they needed to test the water supply for the coronavirus.

While one of the men distracted the homeowner with the ruse, the second offender went into the house and stole property.

Police said the village isn't testing water supplies for COVID-19. Health experts say there's no evidence the virus is present or transmitted through water.

To avoid becoming a victim, police say you shouldn't allow anyone you do not know or did not make an appointment with in your house, never leave your front door unlocked or unattended when dealing with a solicitor, and ask for an ID to verify if the person claims to be with a utility company or local government agency.

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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