With events canceled, neighborhood fireworks skyrocket

With events canceled, neighborhood fireworks skyrocket

With few to no organized Fourth of July fireworks displays planned locally, fireworks companies are advertising more heavily than usual as they seek to capitalize on people’s desire to maintain their summertime tradition.

And more than is typical, it seems, fireworks are being set off on a nightly basis in many local communities, prompting complaints from residents.

Some local police chiefs confirmed that they’re seeing more fireworks activity than usual for this time of year, and are doing whatever they can to monitor the situation and enforce laws where possible.

North Providence Chief Arthur Martins said police have noticed an increase in calls for service concerning the use of fireworks since the first of June, but said he can’t say with certainty whether it’s related to the cancellation of area events.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and will take enforcement action when we encounter illegal fireworks,” he said. “If a particular area starts to become especially problematic, we may introduce creative measures to address the issue. We understand that this is a quality of life issue for many of our residents.”

With ground-based fireworks now legal in Rhode Island, enforcement in response to complaints remains a challenge for police, and area residents frequently complain that their calls to law enforcement aren’t taken very seriously. By the time police do respond to calls for illegal aerial fireworks, those responsible for them are often long gone.

In Pawtucket, City Councilor John Barry III said last Wednesday that he’d received two more calls that day, after another call over the previous weekend, from people who were upset about “fireworks going off all over town.” The complaints center around the fact that those setting off the fireworks are doing so at all hours and that police don’t see it as an important issue, said Barry. He said he’d been noticing a particular increase in explosions over the previous week.

The council asked Chief Tina Goncalves to get back to them on any details related to how they’re responding to resident calls and what they’re trying to do to combat the issue, including anything they’re doing to stop late-night fireworks. The council is also asking the chief to explain to residents the difficulty in catching the people who are setting off the fireworks.

Goncalves said Monday that the department is aware of issues in the city and surrounding communities.

“We share the same concerns as our residents regarding the illegal use of fireworks,” she said. “The department is sympathetic to the desire of some residents to celebrate as we move closer to July 4, but must balance this with the concern for fires and the adverse effect fireworks have on the quality of life of other residents.”

Police ask that residents contact them immediately if they hear or see any illegal fireworks, said Goncalves.

“The Pawtucket Police Department will be vigilantly monitoring for anyone using illegal fireworks,” she said. “We ask for everyone’s cooperation to this matter and ask the residents to think about the unintended consequences that illegal fireworks have on your neighbors and their pets.”

Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais said that with all public events canceled, he expects there will be more neighborhood gatherings with fireworks.

“The only types of firework that are legal in Rhode Island are sparklers and low ground fireworks. All other types of fireworks are illegal,” he said. “I would like to advise people that there are injuries resulting in the lighting of fireworks. I am anticipating that we will receive a number of calls for fireworks complaints, and we will respond as needed.”

Debates on fireworks frequently set social media ablaze, and the debate got so heated over the past week in Cumberland that one administrator deleted an entire thread.

Woonsocket Deputy Chief Michael Lemoine said that city typically sees an increase in fireworks calls beginning in late May and through June until after the Fourth of July holiday, and that’s the case again this year.

“We understand this is a quality of life concern for neighbors and citizens,” he said. “Officers take proactive measures when they observe or hear fireworks about the city. We also respond to calls from residents about fireworks. We should have extra patrols to help enforce statutes and ordinances.”

Foster Police Chief David Breit said it’s possible that the state could see a larger volume of neighborhood fireworks on the Fourth of July due to the cancellation of larger celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, the department will do its utmost to keep residents safe, he said, and an extra officer will be assigned to the evening shift.

Scituate Chief Donald Delaere said he thinks with Rhode Island moving toward reopening, and more people able to get out instead of being confined to their homes, he doesn’t expect a big increase in fireworks activity this summer. The plan to manage the situation has always been the same, he said, and that’s to handle each call fairly and responsibly, enforcing all laws.

Capt. Stephen Riccitelli of the North Smithfield Police Department says he hasn’t seen any increase in the number of fireworks complaints this year. They typically get a few every summer, but they’re not overwhelmed with them, and he doesn’t know what to expect this year.

“It’s anybody’s guess, you know. Not quite sure if people being stuck at home is going to have any impact on that.”


Here is the summary of the law from the Fire Marshal's web page:

Rhode Island General Law § 11-13-1 states that no one can sell, use or possess display fireworks or aerial consumer fireworks. Certain fireworks and devices that are exempt from the definitions of display fireworks and aerial consumer fireworks include but are not limited to:

Ground-based & hand-held sparkling devices
Illuminating torches, wheels, spinners, flitter sparklers
Sparklers, party poppers, snappers, toy smoke devices, snakes, glow worms, wire sparklers & dipped sticks

Illegal Fireworks

Any firecrackers, rockets, mortars, or any other device that launches a projecile and/or makes a "bang"/detonation/report are illegal per RIGL § 11-13-1.