by Abbey Marshall

No, you’re not hearing things: there really are more fireworks being set off than normal.

According to some metrics, at least 645% more. 

Between May 24 and June 23, the Akron Police Department logged 231 firework complaints, compared to 31 during the same time period in 2019 — and that’s a week before the Fourth of July, when amateur firework displays typically peak.

Ellen Lander, the City of Akron’s press secretary, told The Devil Strip that complaints to 311 and the Mayor’s office have increased significantly, though the city doesn’t have a system to keep track of the specific numbers. Lander said those offices are averaging at least a dozen calls and emails per week over the last several weeks.

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It’s not an issue exclusive to Akron: cities nationwide are facing the same problems with numbers far more staggering than Northeast Ohio. New York City logged 12,500 911 calls this month: 80 times more complaints than in June 2019. Boston is reporting a 2,300% increase over previous years. 

So what’s going on?

The answer, according to one local fireworks seller, is pretty simple: people are bored. 

“There’s no baseball games, no concerts, no late-night bars,” says John Sorgi, the owner of American Fireworks Company in Hudson. “Coming out of lockdown, people have a lot of disposable income and want something fun to do.”

Sorgi said American Fireworks Company, which supplies both consumer and professional fireworks, is experiencing a sales drop of about 80% for large-scale professional firework shows, such as city-sponsored Fourth of July shows. 

Meanwhile, sales to the public are exploding, with an uptick of about 30% since May.

“People are upset that there won’t be any big show, so they’re having them in their own backyards,” Sorgi said. “It seems to have become a hobby for people leading up to the Fourth this year. People like it because it’s a way to entertain kids, and it’s a thrill.”

In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Disease Control recommends avoiding large gatherings and public crowds. Though parts of Ohio are beginning to reopen in part, such as restaurants and entertainment venues with social distancing measures, many municipalities are canceling firework displays and summer festivals that would draw hundreds of people together.

Akron’s Office of Integrated Development will be launching a synchronized firework program on July 4 from the airport, Patterson Park, Summit Lake and a downtown parking deck for home viewing. A perimeter around all sites will be secured and spectators will not be allowed to park or walk close to the displays in order to deter large crowds from gathering. Many other neighborhood firework displays have been canceled.

Sorgi said that his company is frantically trying to meet the demand and had to stop selling products and filling orders for other state retailers they usually supply in summer months.

The seemingly nonstop slew of cracks and pops of the amateur displays have sparked a large community debate, with neighbors torn on whether they’re harmless means for entertainment or disturbing to others. 

“I am bothered by the non-stop nature of the phenomenon,” says Firestone Park resident Karen Massa. “The firecrackers are making me edgy and scared to be near a window. I’m losing sleep.”

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Social media feeds of neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor, an app designed for neighbors to interact, is riddled with complaints from people worried about neighbors with post-traumatic stress disorder, skittish pets and general loud noise late at night.

“I am not a fan of fireworks because of my wartime experience,” says Highland Square resident Eric Harmon, who is an Iraq war veteran. “It’s not the ones that people buy at the store that bother me so much; it’s the commercial ones that are shot from a tube that bother me. They sound like mortars.”

“It has been unbearable this year compared to years past,” says Firestone Park resident Sharon Myers. “My rescue dog is deathly afraid of fireworks and of storms. However, my bigger problem is my father who has Alzheimer’s and dementia. He begins to pace back and forth through the house looking out every door and window trying to see what is going on and shaking in fear the whole time.”

Many sleepless community members on social media recommend calling the police’s non-emergency number to complain, citing the fact that shooting off fireworks in Ohio is illegal. Some are cycling a petition to halt passage of Ohio House Bill 253, which passed the House and is currently in the state Senate, which would legalize the use of consumer-grade fireworks.

“I know many people are complaining about this, but I really enjoy them,” said 69-year-old Lynn Fisher. “One of my favorite holidays has always been the Fourth. I am retired and love the sound.”

Firework retailers have good news for neighbors tired of hearing the explosions in neighborhood backyards: it’s almost over.

“We usually see a significant drop-off of fireworks after the Fourth,” Sorgi said. “We expect this year that there will still be higher use of fireworks than in previous years later in the summer, but it’s likely that a lot of people will stop after next weekend.”

Abbey Marshall covers economic development for The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach her at abbey@thedevilstrip.com.

Photos: used with permission from John Sorgi/American Fireworks Company

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