Despite fireworks being outlawed in Illinois, it has become an unspoken tradition in the state for residents to shoot contraband into the sky in the days leading up to Independence Day. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, residents in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park have taken their fireworks frenzy to a whole new level.
West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center’s executive director, Brian Staunton, provided the number of fireworks complaints between May 25 through June 23. Based on his report, the volume of complaints has dramatically risen in 2020 compared to the past two years. In 2018, there were eight complaints in Oak Park and none in River Forest and Forest Park. In 2019, there were eight complaints in Oak Park, seven in River Forest and three in Forest Park.
In 2020, there have been 68 complaints in Oak Park, 23 in River Forest and 14 in Forest Park during that time period.
“I have lived here for 52 years, and it has never been this bad,” said Oak Park resident Pat Koko.
“For a period of time, I called the police and the person I talked to said that ‘it’s in Chicago so we can’t do anything’ so I waited a couple more days. But the fireworks have been coming every night so I called again and was given the wrong contact information to reach out to the area where it was happening. I gave up. It’s been awful.”
Among those who are upset by the uptick in fireworks usage are pet owners who are angered by the late-night antics which are impacting their animals’ stress levels. The residents we spoke to say they have heard fireworks go off as early as 7 p.m. to as late as 3:30 a.m.
“I have a shelter adopted dog frightened to death by the fireworks,” said Oak Park resident Laura Bruzas. “We have tried meds, a thunder jacket, and everything else to help with [the dog’s] stress. It doesn’t work and you cannot plan for it. These people are terrorizing dogs by using illegal fireworks like M-80s and M-100s. It needs to stop.”
With fireworks coming from all over the Chicago Area, there is difficulty in pinpointing every location where fireworks are being lit off. Forest Park resident Geoff Binns-Calvey has tried to cordially stop those using fireworks but has come up empty.
“I went for a walk and saw a group of guys in Berwyn shooting off fireworks behind a McDonald’s,” said Binns-Calvey. “I told him I hadn’t called the cops and I wanted to talk to them as neighbors first. One of them showed me what he had and that it was the last big one they were going to set off. And by the time I got home, they were still at it. They had no idea that the debris was falling on the roof of the gas station.”
A worker at the Shell station confirmed there wasn’t any damage to the building. However, there was one incident in Berwyn where a driver, Richard Camacho, was driving on the 2600 block of Clinton when a group of people had lit off a firework. They tried to stop him from driving by it, but it ended up shooting off three feet from Camacho’s car.
“It was definitely something louder and bigger than most of the loud and big ones we keep hearing,” said Camacho. “Even other neighbors came out thinking an explosion happened. The shock of it set off my car’s airbags and disabled the car. It is currently in my garage and I cannot drive it until it is repaired by the insurance.”
Camacho was in his car with his children who were unharmed by the accident. His car has been impounded and it cost him $250.
Outside of the physical harm fireworks have brought to the area, Forest Parker and ex-Marine Mike Close told Forest Park Review that he knows veterans who have been impacted by the barrage of fireworks that sound similar to explosives being set off.
“If I can see the fireworks and I know they are coming, they won’t bother me,” said Close, who served in the Marines from 1966-67 during the Vietnam War. “I would react if I heard a whistling sound, you would find me under my bed. But I belong to a group of veterans who flew spotter planes and they are able to talk about it and understand and help each other through this.”
Even with complaints piling up, there are some residents who believe they aren’t doing any harm by using fireworks.
“I don’t think people should spark them at 2 a.m. but with the times we are living in right now, we should be able to do this safely,” said one River Forest resident who requested anonymity. “As long as no one gets hurt, I don’t think we are doing anything wrong.”
In 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.