What Boston is doing about the ‘out of control’ fireworks

City officials say illegal fireworks calls are up 5,543 percent compared to last June.

Fireworks explode over Dorchester as seen from Blue Hill Avenue near the Franlin Park Zoo.
Fireworks explode earlier this month over Dorchester as seen from Blue Hill Avenue near the Franklin Park Zoo. –John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says it’s time to get “serious” about the recent explosion in illegal fireworks.

“The fireworks situation is out of control, not just here in Boston,” but across the country, Walsh said during an appearance Friday afternoon on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

“I hear them at night,” the Dorchester Democrat added. “Everyone hears them at night. I have a park next to me, and every night there’s these explosions; they’re not even fireworks, they’re more like bombs.”

Less than two hours after the interview ended, Walsh’s office announced that he was convening a task force that will try to do something about it.

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“People lose sleep, babies get woken up, some people with PTSD experience real harms, pets are terrified and they’re fire hazards,” Walsh said in a statement. “Working together with our partners in public safety, the City Council and the community as a Task Force is an important way to address this issue and work to take fireworks off the streets.”

According to Walsh’s office, the city has always seen a degree of illegal fireworks in the lead up to Fourth of July. But this June, fireworks calls to the Boston Police Department are up 5,543 percent. Compared to the 139 calls police received last June, there have been 7,844 this June — and the month isn’t over yet.

“It’s really bad,” Walsh said on WGBH. “It’s never been like this before.”

It’s not yet clear what exactly the task force will do.

The group includes Boston’s four at-large city councilors — Annissa Essaibi-George, Michael Flaherty, Julia Mejia, and Michelle Wu — and Jerome Smith, the city’s chief of civic engagement, as well as members of the fire and police departments and other community leaders. Walsh’s office says more task force members will be announced next week.

The dramatic increase in fireworks across the country has fueled wild conspiracy theories. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, most people — from law enforcement officials to fireworks sellers and buyers — say the explanation is simple, as The New York Times recently reported:

After months of quarantine and social distancing, people are bored, and setting off fireworks for fun — and seeing fireworks just makes fireworks enthusiasts want to set off more fireworks.

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New York City recently announced a similar fireworks task force, along with plans for sting operations to “get these illegal fireworks at the base.”

Mejia has suggested it will take an “inside/outside” strategy to address the issue. During a virtual meeting earlier this month, the Dorchester resident and several fellow city councilors said the preponderance of nighttime explosions is both a quality of life and public health issue, especially for veterans or gun violence survivors for whom the loud noises can be traumatic.

Ron Odom, a Dorchester resident whose 13-year-old son was shot to death outside their home, said the fireworks served as a constant reminder of visions of his “son’s body falling to the ground.”

“As a kid, I did the same thing, but we had firecrackers,” Odom said. “The sound of these fireworks, it just re-triggered me to the point where I just couldn’t sleep.”

State officials said Thursday that “dozens” of people in Massachusetts have also been displaced by house fires caused by illegal fireworks.

It’s illegal to use, possess, or sell fireworks in Massachusetts, as well as purchase them somewhere else and transport them into the state. But that hasn’t stopped Bay Staters from smuggling legally purchased fireworks back from New Hampshire, where sales are reportedly booming in the midst of the pandemic.

During the community meeting earlier this month, Smith said that police had “done some recent busts” and traced some “larger fireworks” back to Michigan and other more far-flung states.

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“We believe someone brought in a ton of fireworks,” Smith said. “There must be some sort of distribution place here in the city that people are selling them out of, so we’re trying to find that place.”

More recently, Boston police seized a “large quantity” of fireworks from a UHaul van last weekend in Dorchester.

For now, city officials are encouraging residents to call 911 — as opposed to 311 — with any fireworks complaints.

“Right now, the only tools that we have, for the city, is police enforcement,” Smith said.


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