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State cracking down on illegal fireworks use in Mass. ahead of July 4

A cache of illegal fireworks recently seized by Mass. State Police.
A cache of illegal fireworks recently seized by Mass. State Police.Mass. State Police

Though we haven’t even reached the Fourth of July, the state’s crackdown on illegal fireworks is in full swing, with dozens of people summoned to court over the violations in recent weeks, authorities said Thursday.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for the state Department of Fire Services, said via e-mail that state troopers assigned to his agency’s Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit have been working with local police and fire departments on a variety of enforcement strategies.

“So far there have been about 30 criminal summonses,” Wark wrote. “Thousands of fireworks, worth thousands of dollars, have been seized so far.”

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The annual enforcement drive in Massachusetts began last month, according to a prior DFS statement released on May 20.

“It is illegal to bring fireworks into Massachusetts, even if they were legally purchased elsewhere,” said state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey at the time.

It’s also illegal for private citizens to set off fireworks in Massachusetts, but that certainly didn’t deter everyone last year.

In 2020, DFS said, the State Police Bomb Squad reported a 63 percent increase in responses to fireworks calls compared to 2019.

During the 2020 enforcement drive, officials said, there were 47 criminal summonses issued over a four-day period. Authorities said in May that this year’s enforcement push will last longer.

There’s a need for it, with community complaints on the rise, officials said.

The DFS said complaints have spiked in “communities throughout the Commonwealth,” including in Boston, where police in 2020 fielded 21,346 complaints, compared to 1,504 in 2019.

In Lawrence, officials said, 810 complaints came in last year, compared to just 159 in 2019. In Brockton, the 2020 tally reached 1,486 complaints, compared to 209 the year before.

Springfield, meanwhile, logged 3,504 complaints in 2020, including a whopping 3,345 between May 1 and July 31, according to DFS.

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In May, Ostroskey noted that this year communities will host public fireworks displays to celebrate the Fourth of July, as opposed to last year, when such displays were canceled due to the pandemic.

“There will be supervised displays of fireworks this year unlike last year, so we encourage you to leave the fireworks to the professionals,” Ostroskey said at the time. “Fireworks are illegal because they are dangerous. Fires started by fireworks in Massachusetts increased 180 percent in 2020 from 2019.”

The results can be dire.

Between 2011 and 2020, officials said, there were 941 “major” fire and explosion calls linked to illegal fireworks logged by the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System. Those cases, DFS said, resulted in 12 civilian injuries, 42 fire service injuries, and about $2.1 million in damages.

According to the agency, 41 percent of burn injuries that hospitals reported to Ostroskey’s office between 2011 and 2020 were sustained by children under 18. Twenty-six percent, DFS said, were kids under 10 during that time period.

Last week, DFS put out another sobering reminder of the dangers of illegal fireworks, outlining some of the most severe injuries reported in recent years.

Those cases, DFS said, included a 13-year-old boy visiting Randolph who suffered burns to 10 percent of his body from illegal fireworks on July 18, 2020; a 29-year-old Charlton man who suffered burns to 9 percent of his body on July 4, 2019, as well as puncture wounds to his back; a 16-year-old Dartmouth boy who, the following day, suffered first- and second-degree burns to the lower portion of his body.

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The cases also included a 4-year-old Boston girl who suffered burns to her left hand on July 9, 2019, when she grabbed a burning sparkler someone else held; a young boy who sustained “severe injuries” to his hand on July 7, 2020, near Carson Beach in South Boston; and a 43-year-old Montague man who sustained a serious leg wound on July 20, 2020.

“The Fourth of July holiday is a busy time for firefighters,” said Centerville-Osterville-Marston Mills Fire Chief Michael J. Winn, president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts, in last week’s DFS statement.

“We respond to all types of fires and medical emergencies,” Winn said. “In fact, the week of July 4 is one of the busiest times of the year for fires. So please leave the fireworks to the professionals and enjoy the many supervised fireworks displays.”

Those who sell fireworks in Massachusetts face penalties of up to a year in jail, fines between $100 and $1,000, and mandatory seizure of the illegal fireworks, state records show. Residents who possess or set off fireworks face fines of between $10 and $100, as well as seizure of the illicit explosives.

“The State Police Bomb squad is coordinating enforcement efforts with local fire and police departments to help avoid a repeat of last year, where citizen complaints about the unsafe use of illegal fireworks increased sharply,” Ostroskey said.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.