By James Kay
Despite fireworks being outlawed in Illinois, it has become an unspoken tradition in the state for residents to shoot off contraband into the sky in the days leading up to Independence Day. However, in times that people are stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, residents in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside have taken their fireworks frenzy to another level.
According to West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) Executive Director Jason Rodgers, the number of fireworks complaints between May 25 and June 23 was up dramatically compared to the past two years.
In 2018, there were only eight complaints in North Riverside, Riverside and Brookfield and only seven complaints between the three villages in 2019.
In 2020, there were 37 fireworks-related complaints in those areas during that time period, and many more have been reported in the week or so since the Landmark sought those records.
One common trend among those complaining about the uptick in fireworks is that many are pet owners complaining their dogs are not responding well to fireworks being shot off at all hours of the night.
The residents we spoke to say that they are hearing fireworks go off between 9 p.m. to as late as 3:30 a.m.
"We have a dog who has been traumatized by this," said Fred Mitchell of Riverside. "We have tried all the remedies [to calm him down] and none of them have worked. I am not an expert with this stuff, but it also seems like it's not just firecrackers, sparklers or roman candles. It sounds like pretty serious fireworks, like M-80s, are being lit off."
Mitchell has called the police chief and was satisfied with his response in how law enforcement is trying to handle the overwhelming amount of complaints in the area. However, one North Riverside resident disagrees with the response to stopping the nightly barrage of fireworks.
"I have called the police department numerous times and nothing was done," said Beth Pennachio. "They want me to tell them where it's coming from and pinpoint one area. How am I supposed to do that when it's coming from everywhere? I am not going to drive around searching for who is shooting [fireworks] off, because that should be [the police department's] job."
Pennachio, whose dog recently went blind and has been dealing with anxiety during this period of high fireworks usage, went on to say that it's not just pet owners who are struggling with this.
"It's not just that I can't take my dog out at 7 [p.m.] for a walk since the fireworks start as early as 6:30 [p.m.] now," said Pennachio. "Elderly people don't want to go outside. People are scared to go outside because they hear fireworks go off and mistaken them for gunshots. You don't know who's doing what and what people are. A lot of people think this is one big joke when others are being impacted by this. It's not funny and needs to be taken more seriously."
Even with all of the uproar surrounding the spike in fireworks use, there are still some residents who are steadfast defending the "tradition" and are worried that the complaints will stop them from being able to celebrate with fireworks on the Fourth of July.
"It's Independence Day and it's a day that should be celebrated in the traditional way," said a Riverside resident who requested anonymity. "I respect the police and my dad was a fireman for over 30 years. But I think they need to relax the rules a little bit so everyone can have a good time and get a little relief after all that has happened."
The resident went further and claimed that people are "overreacting to a lot of things" and that "this is one of them."
The state of Illinois, the Pyrotechnic Use Act prohibits anyone from buying, possessing, selling or distributing fireworks. Those who violate this act can be fined $2,500 and serve up to one year in prison.