‘The 10 days of the Fourth is what we deal with’: Local PDs brace for calls of illegal fireworks


Staff Writer

Published: 06-30-2023 4:41 PM

Massachusetts law prohibits the possession, use and sale of fireworks by unlicensed individuals, even if they’re bought legally in another state. But that often doesn’t stop people from creating their own Fourth of July displays, leaving local police on high alert for the illegal activity this time of year.

James Sullivan, the police chief in Orange, said the annual increase in calls the first week of July has prompted him to try to ensure his department has four to five cruisers on the road on Independence Day, whereas a typical night features two to three cruisers. He said Lake Mattawa and Packard Pond are particularly vulnerable spots, and the extra police detail require overtime pay covered by taxpayers. Still, he noted, he doesn’t believe his town is more affected than any other.

“I think it’s pretty similar to all the other towns in this area,” Sullivan said. “Being so close to New Hampshire, they literally have stores just as you cross the state line.”

Fireworks are legal in the Granite State, as long as the purchaser is 21 or older and the products are lit on private property only. Several of these stores are near the state line New Hampshire shares with Northfield, and Police Chief Jon Hall said he has seen an influx of vehicles driving up from Connecticut, where fireworks are also illegal.

“It’s also a courtesy thing,” he said about the use of fireworks. “It scares people’s dogs and horses and other animals. It’s not always obvious that it’s fireworks.”

Hall said anyone who sees or hears fireworks should call the Shelburne Control Dispatch Center at 413-625-8200. The possession or use of fireworks without a license carries a fine in Massachusetts but it is not an arrestable offense. The illegality also applies to more mundane products like pull-string confetti poppers and bang snaps.

According to the state Department of Fire Services, there have been 11 fires caused by illegal fireworks in Franklin County since 2011, with four of these just last year. The department issued a statement last week reminding residents to leave fireworks to the professionals.

“Every single year in Massachusetts, people are hurt and property is destroyed by illegal fireworks,” state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said in a statement. “We’re reminding everyone that fireworks are illegal because they are dangerous. There will be plenty of permitted fireworks displays this summer, so stay safe and leave fireworks to the professionals.”

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According to the statement, fireworks-related fires and explosions in Massachusetts skyrocketed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, jumping from 57 in 2019 to 189 in 2020. These figures declined in 2021, when 80 incidents were reported statewide. In 2022, however, fire departments reported 106 fires and explosions attributed to fireworks, an increase of nearly a third over the prior year. These incidents caused 38 injuries and $414,279 in damages — more than double the property loss caused by fireworks in 2020. More than half of these incidents took place in the week of July 4, 2022.

Sullivan said the calls to the Orange Police Department typically pertain to noise complaints, not injuries.

“I think we’ve been lucky. Nothing’s sticking out in my mind,” he said, reflecting on any fireworks-related injuries. “But it’s always a huge potential with those things.”

Montague Police Chief Christopher Williams said a fireworks-related injury in his town two or three years ago resulted in a criminal charge but his officers typically prefer to issue warnings and give the offenders “the opportunity to knock it off.”

He also said the use of fireworks is not limited to the 24 hours of Independence Day.

“The 10 days of the Fourth is what we deal with,” he said.

Williams mentioned fireworks and the noise they produce can be a nuisance to people and can be triggering to those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

The state Department of Fire Services posts a list of permitted municipal fireworks displays and updates it each week through the summer. To view the list — and to learn more about the dangers of illegal fireworks — visit bit.ly/3NvEXTP.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or