As Illegal Fireworks Increase, Manchester Community Members Impacted

Fireworks at Night

As a result of the boredom of quarantine and the cancellation of Manchester’s 4th of July Fireworks, many have been setting off their own leading to a rise in complaints. This has been occurring not only in Manchester, but across the country. New York Daily News reported that fireworks complaints had skyrocketed in New York City, with some blaming them on quarantine boredom. This past Sunday June 14th, NYC received 455 fireworks complaints alone. The same pattern can be seen Boston, where fireworks complaints have increased by 2,300% during the pandemic according to the Boston Herald. Last week Mayor Martin Walsh urged residents to stop, stating that “People are frightened. People are losing sleep. Babies and kids are woken up. Pets are terrified. Our veterans and others with PTSD are experiencing real harm.” A simple online search reveals that several articles by large publications are reporting on a spike in fireworks complaints during the pandemic, causing problems for those more sensitive to the noise. This week, the Hartford Courant reported on the increase of illegal fireworks in Hartford-area towns, including Manchester, as “cooped-up residents blow off steam.” Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, Glastonbury and Vernon are among the several towns that have had more fireworks complaints this year. Manchester fireworks complaints have increased from only three in the first half of June last year to 79 complaints in the same period this year, said Lt. Ryan Shea, spokesman for the Manchester Police Department, to the Courant. In addition to disturbing children and people with PTSD, illegal fireworks are dangerous and can cause fires or injure people. 

Manchester Police Department even posted on Facebook, notifying people of the dangers of illegal fireworks in response to the increase in the number of fireworks related complaints in recent weeks. The post explained that “sparklers and fountains, which are non-explosive and non-aerial” are legal and “can only be purchased and used by persons age 16 or older.” Aerial and explosive fireworks are not allowed by law in Connecticut for use by non-professional, non-licensed users. The department highlighted the dangers of fireworks, stating that “hot debris can land anywhere causing injuries and fires.” Many Manchester residents have filed complaints and expressed their concern over the fireworks, which have been going off most nights, despite the fact that the 4th of July is still two and half weeks away. Manchester Police asked that those who observed aerial or explosive fireworks being used to please contact their non-emergency line and report as many details as possible. 

The dog is hiding under the sofa and afraid to go out. The concept of dog's anxiety about thunderstorm, fireworks and loud noises. Pet's mental health, excessive emotionality, feelings of insecurity.

Impact on Pets

Many pet owners are particularly concerned for the wellbeing of their fluffy friends. For example, one pet owner living on the west side of Manchester described the adverse effects on their dog. “The dog is conditioned now that once it’s dark, he won’t come outside in anticipation of the fireworks. His behavior is starting to change,” they described. “Once the first one goes off, there is an increase in stress and anxiety and he shakes and pants uncontrollably non-stop… it’s at the point that we have to give him these calming brownies every night, every day of the week, from the beginning of the summer all the way to the end.” This is a cost that adds up over time, in addition to the lost sleep. “The fireworks start at dusk and end no later than 10 PM, although sometimes it goes on later. In previous summers, they would start maybe 2 weeks before the 4th of July. Ever since COVID-19, these fireworks have been going on every single night in the neighborhood from the start of May,” they explained. 

According to the Humane Society of the United States, fireworks while fun for some people, can be terrifying and overwhelming for pets. Many times, “pets become so frightened by the noise and commotion of fireworks that they run from otherwise familiar environments and people, and sadly become lost.” Dog noise phobia or dog noise anxiety are terms often used to describe this fear and behavior in dogs. Fireworks are listed as a common problem noise that can trigger episodes of anxiety in pets. Signs and symptoms include hiding, chewing, panting, pacing, trying to escape, drooling, seeking out the owner, trembling, barking, urinating or defecating. Milder symptoms can also become further exacerbated after repeated exposure to the phobia-causing noise. There are many medications and techniques that might help alleviate pets’ fear and anxiety, but they come at a cost for pet owners, especially if anxiety medication is needed each night that fireworks are being set off. Possible negative side effects may also occur as a result of certain anti-anxiety medications, which are concerns pet owners have to keep in mind when administering any medication to their pets. 

Impact on Veterans and Those with PTSD

The sound of fireworks going off not only impacts pets, but it also has harmful impacts on veterans and others who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially when the fireworks are set off illegally and at unexpected times, such as late at night or outside of the holiday season. These loud noises can sometimes trigger a startle response and bring back memories. Symptoms of PTSD may include extreme vigilance, nightmares or insomnia, negative changes in mood, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance or social isolation. Many of those with PTSD can mentally prepare for planned events that involve fireworks, but the unexpected setting off of illegal fireworks can have a harmful impact. Shawn Gourley, the co-founder of the nonprofit Military with PTSD, explained to the Marine Corps Community Services in an article that some people may be concerned about bringing up the issue because it may infringe on others’ fun, or because of the stigma that might surround PTSD. This applies not only to veterans, but to many others who suffer from PTSD, including victims of gun violence. PTSD affects about 7-8% of the United States population, but this number only reflects a small portion of those who have gone through a traumatic experience.

Others Affected

 In addition to those with PTSD, children and adults with sensory or anxiety disorders can experience harmful reactions or symptoms when fireworks go off. Sometimes, the reaction can even be physically painful. Although those with PTSD, anxiety, or sensory challenges are the most vulnerable to harm when illegal fireworks are frequently set off, the noise of fireworks can also create stress to anyone not expecting them. This is especially true with young children and infants, who can easily startle and awaken at the sound. Many parents have to prepare their children in advance, letting them know that they might hear some noises in the night and that everything is okay if they do. Parents can also ensure that their children have more naps during the day or use white noise machines. There are many ways that parents can prepare, but when illegal fireworks are set off frequently and unexpectedly, children can be startled or frightened and lose sleep.

While fireworks can be a fun activity for celebrations, the illegal and frequent use of fireworks outside of the holidays, when they are usually expected, can have many unseen adverse effects on both people and pets nearby. You never know who may be suffering when fireworks are unexpectedly set off. While the boredom and cabin fever associated with quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult to handle, it’s important to be considerate of how others are being affected. There are several other ways to fight boredom that are safer and more considerate, including walking or hiking (check out the Manchester Trails Guide) or participating in a learnshop or fitness activity (check out the Summer 2020 Modified Recreation Program Guide). Even at home there are a variety of ways to fight boredom, like watching a new movie, playing card games, or making a new dessert recipe. Although none may be as beautiful or thrilling as a fireworks display, it’s important to be considerate of the unseen effects on those around us. 

If you are struggling with PTSD and want confidential guidance, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or if you experience suicidal thoughts along with PTSD episodes, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  

Maddie Bockus

Maddie Bockus

I am a lifelong resident of Manchester and a Facility Director with the Department of Leisure, Families, and Recreation. I graduated Manchester High School in 2017 and I'm currently an undergraduate student majoring in International Studies at Boston College. I am an editor for The Gavel, a progressive student publication, and a co-director for FACES, the anti-racism student organization at Boston College. Fun Fact #1: I studied abroad in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was the most beautiful place I'd ever been. Fun Fact #2: I can speak Spanish and one day want to be fluent.

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