PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A recent uptick in complaints over the use of illegal fireworks has led to the creation of a new task force in Providence.
Starting Thursday night, roughly a dozen members of the city’s police and fire departments as well as the state fire marshal’s office will work the streets and respond specifically to reports of fireworks and noise-related incidents.
“Our office has received many more complaints about illegal fireworks this year than in any past years,” State Fire Marshal Timothy P. McLaughlin said. “We are happy to join the Providence Police and Providence Fire departments on this task force to limit the use of illegal fireworks in our neighborhoods.”
In Rhode Island, only ground-based fireworks and handheld sparklers are legal, but with the cancellation of many fireworks displays and other celebrations due to the pandemic, illegal fireworks are becoming more accessible to the public, according to Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements.
“This has not only been a local, but nationwide problem,” he said. “With this comprehensive effort, we will do our due diligence to ensure that this does not continue to be a nuisance.”
Providence City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan suggested people may also be looking to blow off steam after being cooped up at home.
“We’ve canceled shows, formal shows, firework shows because of the pandemic and there is just more product – commercial-grade product – finding its way into the communities,” she added.
In June 2019, there were fewer than 20 calls for fireworks in Providence, Ryan said, but this year there have been more than 460 to date.
And it’s not just Providence. Some Rhode Island cities and towns are reporting a more than 100% increase in the number of fireworks-related complaints compared to this time last year, according to data collected by Target 12.
Pawtucket police say they’ve received 190 calls while there have been 124 in East Providence, 90 in Woonsocket, 33 in Cumberland, and 28 in Coventry.
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Cranston police say they also plan to add dedicated patrols to crack down on illegal fireworks.
“If we get a call, hopefully we can get there quickly and deal with it and we charge somebody if they are in violation of the law,” Col. Michael Winquist said.
To report the use of illegal fireworks in Providence or file a complaint, call the police department’s non-emergency line (401) 272-3121 or use its online reporting system. Police ask that you not call 911 to report fireworks.
Orlando Health conducted a national survey and found more than 2 in 5 Americans plan to buy fireworks this year. The survey also found the coronavirus prompted them to buy fireworks for the first time.
While the pyrotechnic displays may be beautiful, the sounds may be triggering to veterans or dogs. Elizabeth Gibson, MD, an orthopedic surgery resident at Orlando Health, says the consequences of lighting fireworks off at home could be devastating.
“You can have fractures, you can have digits that are no longer attached to the hands,” Gibson said. “Burns and abrasions to the eyes that can result in blindness. A lot of people suffer eardrum rupture, just from the boom of the fireworks.”
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2020 Annual Fireworks Report, last year 10,000 people were treated in the emergency room for firework related injuries, and 12 people died.