Jean Gajary, of West Mt. Airy, takes care of her sweet three-legged rat terrier, Tres, who is traumatized by the fireworks, which Jean insists have been set off in the neighborhood every single …
by Len Lear
One of the best books I ever read was “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a compelling World War 1 narrative by French novelist Erich Maria Remarque. Well, if I may paraphrase and bring it up to date, I would say that all is NOT quiet in West Mt. Airy (or almost any other neighborhood in Philadelphia).
Instead of “bombs bursting in mid-air,” as in the words of the Star-Spangled Banner, we have fireworks bursting in mid-air, sounding like gunshots, every night of the week, including in parts of Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, which are causing a lot more than just noise pollution. According to Brian Abernathy, city managing director, in the first three weeks of June there was an unprecedented number of complaints — about 1000 — to police from all over the city about fireworks.
“Some people can't even sit on their deck any more, it has gotten so bad. It has gone on every single night since Memorial Day from about 7 to midnight,” said Jean Gajary, 54, a structural engineer (Rutgers U. alumna) who is self-employed and works out of her home in West Mt. Airy. We talked on the back porch of her house, where she expressed particular concern about the traumatic effects of the fireworks on her three-legged rat terrier, Tres. “She paws at us, shakes and scratches us. We have tried loud music, white noise, $100 worth of acoustic insulation, medication, even turned closet space into a bunker, but nothing works.”
Gajary is fed up with the problem, which was made possible by the state, which legalized the sale of “consumer-grade fireworks” in 2017, and the city since Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill into law last year permitting the use of fireworks in Philadelphia. As a result, Gajary has created the Fireworks Task Force, whose goal is to lobby City Council to make these fireworks illegal in Philadelphia.
“We have about 100 people so far from all over the city who have joined the task force,” said Gajary. “We have heard from people in every part of the city except Center City and Old City. And it's not just distress for dogs that has people upset. There are veterans who have PTSD, and their fear and stress levels go up when they hear these explosions. You can't tell if it is gunshots or fireworks. Some people say this is a trivial matter, but those people do not have heart problems or PTSD. A lot of people have trouble putting themselves in other people's shoes.”
Another West Mt. Airy resident, Tony Bey, told a TV reporter last Tuesday, “I don't understand it. It is not the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve. People need to be considerate. It is not all about them.”
East Falls resident Rachel McDonald, said, “You're trying to sleep, and then boom, boom, boom! You don't know what it is, but it is ridiculous, and it needs to stop!”
Abernathy acknowledged the problem but said there is only so much the city can do. “Enforcement is very difficult,” he said. “Although selling fireworks is now legal in the city, you're not allowed to set them off within 150 feet of private residences. But by the time police arrive, the people who set off the fireworks have left.”
Another issue that concerns Gajary is that if police arrive on the scene and actually do catch young people with fireworks, it could set off an adversarial relationship that could turn ugly.
“I started this four weeks ago,” she said. “We started with a brainstorming session with eight people, but as the word has gotten out, I have heard from so many people in Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and so many other neighborhoods who have the same problem. It has overwhelmed the 9-1-1 system, and it has taken over my life.”
According to news reports around the U.S., Philadelphia is only one of many cities with a huge uptick in complaints about (mostly illegal) fireworks, which authorities attribute largely to pandemic-induced boredom. According to an ABC-TV report on the Nightly News on June 23, for example, “There have been 13,000 complaints about fireworks in New York City since Memorial Day of this year compared to 130 in the same time frame last year.” Also, Boston has had a 2,300 percent increase in fireworks complaints over the same three weeks compared to that time frame last year.
To join the Fireworks Task Force, email firstname.lastname@example.org. “Please do not email us to report the use of fireworks,” said Jean, who has lived in Mt. Airy for seven years and in Germantown for 13 years before that. “Those calls should go to the police. I only want people who are willing to participate in the task force so we can get rid of these fireworks.”
Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com