Officer Dante Alexander of the Bellingham Police Department has posted on NextDoor.com, “As the Fourth of July nears and we begin to plan our celebrations, please keep in mind that fireworks are prohibited in the City of Bellingham under BMC 10.24.130. Last year between July 1st and July 5th the Bellingham Police Department received nearly 200 calls regarding illegal fireworks.* I think it is important to be aware of how fireworks effect people who live in our city…. Violation of the BMC is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $1000, and in some cases may be a criminal offense. Calling to report illegal fireworks possession or discharge is encouraged and will be supported.”
Beyond the issue of citizen safety, there is another dimension that affects our veterans and other residents who suffer from anxiety and mental illness. In that regard, Officer Alexander provides a message sent to him by a Vietnam veteran:
“I served in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam from October 1967 to October 1968, which included the TET offensive. You may count me as a veteran who is deeply bothered by the random and spontaneous explosions of fireworks during the Fourth of July and New Year’s celebrations.When I moved to the York Neighborhood 20 years ago, I would try to camp in the mountains during the first week of July . . . to find peace. This is my home and my homeland. There is no need to replicate the war to celebrate the freedom for which so many sacrificed so much.”
I can relate somewhat to this veteran as I also served in the Mekong Delta for 12 months. Although not in a combat unit, I was exposed to hostile fire and for several years after my return from Vietnam I had an exaggerated startle response. That response eventually faded, but for many it never goes away. Some combat veterans, many of them my friends, say that fireworks do not bother them. For that I am happy, but for the tens of thousands of others who suffer through these holiday “celebrations” there is no picnic.
Another comment in Officer Alexander’s notice refers to the effect on animals, both pets and the wild kind:
“I have two cats that are indoor/outdoor and in the summer time, primarily outdoor. Illegal fireworks displays and firecrackers in my neighborhood, around the Fourth of July, have an extraordinary stressful impact on my pets. They disappear for days and when they do return, they are trembling and jump at every noise and sudden movement.”
Yes, these are anecdotes, but they are anecdotes repeated tens of thousands of times across the U.S. on and near the 4th of July. Even so, locally there are fireworks displays that are authorized by the Bellingham Fire Department as part of official and commercial activities. Unfortunately, although authorized, these displays produce exactly the same effects on humans and animals. There is no mitigation in authorization.
Well over a year ago and after writing an article on the topic, I contacted the Bellingham Bells management regarding their fireworks displays. Although they listened politely, they rejected my pleas to them to forego these events. Their response from two months ago was that the team management “recognizes my concerns” about veterans and animals but will continue the displays and mitigate the effects by notifying the public. (I’ll pass those notifications to the animals - Woof! Meow!) They feel the fireworks are a big family draw and the kids just love it.
And then the Bells host ceremonies at their games to honor our troops. Say wha’?
Similarly, I contacted Western Washington University regarding the fireworks that are part of their welcoming students to campus in September. There were two displays last year, one sponsored by the university and one by the university’s Alumni Association. This year, the fireworks sponsored by the university will not take place, but mainly because the event has been moved to the afternoon. As for the one sponsored by the alumni association, I was told the display will only last 5 minutes. Cold comfort.
The lead photo above was taken in San Diego in 2014 during a fireworks event that was supposedly run by professionals, the kind who might do the Bellingham Bells and the WWU events. Three barges containing the evening’s displays exploded simultaneously, igniting all the fireworks at once. Even the pros can get it wrong. It is time the Bellingham City Council ban fireworks in their entirety.
*The following devices are prohibited (not a totally inclusive list): Cylindrical fountains, aerial spinners, cone fountains, smoke devices, roman candles, parachutes, wheels, mine/shells/cakes, ground spinners, reloadable mortars, sparklers, firecrackers, sky rockets/missiles, and bottle rockets. According to officer Alexander you can use trick and novelty devices “meaning any small firework device not classified as a consumer of display firework. Items contain a small amount of pyrotechnic composition that is friction sensitive.”