How can SF dim the spark of illegal fireworks? Grand Jury report highlights adverse effects, dangers

Thursday, June 27, 2024
How can San Francisco dim the spark of illegal fireworks?
A San Francisco Civil Grand Jury Report highlights the effects illegal fireworks have on the community and what needs to be done to fix the problem.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- What once was a crowd-pleasing event on the 4th of July, has turned into several unsettling nights of booming explosions.

Take San Francisco's Mission District.

"Oh, to me, it's like a war zone," admitted long-time resident, Richard Segovia.

"They have these ones that shoot up about 20 or 30 of them, one of them got about three feet from my face. People out here until 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning," he added.

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According to the findings of a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury Report, in the past six years, the number of 911 dispatched fireworks calls has continued to increase dramatically in June and July.

The Bayview, the Mission and the Tenderloin districts have had a significant number of calls to the 911 call center, also in the past six years.

Segovia added there is little police enforcement.

"They just drive by, they stop and the people clear back and as soon as they go by, they start all over again," said Segovia.

Police seem to take a soft approach when cracking down on the sale of illegal fireworks.

Here's what they told ABC7 News when we asked to ride along with officers during a raid: "At this time we are not scheduling this due to staffing limitations."

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The grand jury report highlights the effects these illegal fireworks have on members of the community, for example, people living with Alzheimer's.

"They might not recognize that as a firework that they knew from their childhood but they might think it could be something like gunshots or other noise that could be very upsetting to them," said Claire Day of the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada.

It can also be a struggle for some veterans because fireworks mimic many of the sounds of war. Some veterans are known to struggle.

"The weeks leading up to and weeks after, it's a nail-biting time," said James Boatman of Swords to Plowshares. "I have some friends that 4th of July is hard for them. They have combat experience and it brings back bad memories."

Bruce Engle says pets like his Jack Russell Terrier, Betty Sue, are also affected.

"Completely terrified, when they get really bad I have to drug her and even when she's so sedated she can't even stand up and walk, she's still shaking, she's hyperventilating. It breaks my heart every time I see her like that," said Engle.

Then there are the physical impacts of illegal fireworks. The number of emergency room visits goes up when the fireworks come out.

Even though it happened during the New Year's celebrations, earlier this year a teenager was killed after being hit in the head by an illegal firework on Treasure Island.

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SFPD officers responded to someone injured by fireworks on Treasure Island who was pronounced dead after being given first aid.

In a dense urban area like San Francisco, a fire can quickly spread from building to building.

While San Francisco is an urban city, during the weeks leading to the 4th of July the fire department works with homeowners to clear their properties of high grasses. This reduces the possibility of fires starting from a stray firework.

SFPD also brings out special equipment on the night of July 4th.

"We put these mini pumpers out in different areas. They are out and about. They are actually looking for fires," said Ken Cofflin, San Francisco's Fire Marshal.

While the technology has improved, the message is the same.

"No fireworks are allowed here in San Francisco whatsoever, not even sparklers. Stay away from them, enjoy them from afar," added Cofflin.

Despite all the reasons to not shoot off fireworks, people continue to break the law. Because that message continues to be disregarded, the grand jury finally recommended that San Francisco create a working group led by the Department of Emergency Management to assist police in finding ways to prevent the use of illegal fireworks.

Other city departments are also required to weigh in. But don't expect much to be different this year, the working group should be in place by October 1.

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