THE DAY after July 4, Savannah City Council is set to discuss.... fireworks.
It’s no coincidence.
The planned brief discussion during Council’s regular work session this Thursday at 1 p.m. comes not only one day after the biggest fireworks displays of the year, but just four days after Georgia cities are finally allowed by state law to craft their own local noise ordinances restricting fireworks.
It also comes on the heels of a particularly brutal season for those who find fireworks disturbing, whether because of their own PTSD or the reactions of their pets.
In the case of Janet Levine, it’s both.
“My PTSD came from childhood abuse,” says Levine, who isn’t shy about discussing her struggles on the record, and for whom destigmatizing mental health issues is a priority.
But Levine’s dog, like many canine companions, is also very sensitive to fireworks.
“My dog is my service dog. When she freaks out because the fireworks won’t stop, then she can’t help me.”
Over the entire week prior to July 4, much of the Edgemere/Parkside area was granted the dubious honor of hearing constant fireworks coming from a single home.
Like a scene from a Hunter S. Thompson piece — or maybe Admiral Boom from Mary Poppins — the folks at this one house would launch heavy-duty fireworks from a mortar tube on their porch, several times an hour, for literally days on end.
Levine says she called police at least four times about the house. She ended up going over there when she couldn’t get police to do anything.
“When the PTSD hits, I turn into fight or flight. I was in fight mode. When you’re triggered that much you just need the trigger to stop,” she says.
Levine says she asked the man politely to stop, and he was polite as well. But almost as soon as she left, he resumed cooking off rounds from his mortar.
So she went back.
“A woman sitting on the porch yelled at me to get out of there. She said, ‘I’m going to load one and throw it at your car.’ And she started to do it. I drove off,” Levine says.
“The defiance and aggression was very upsetting and scary.”
Levine says that while police were very professional, they told her that without witnesses, the physical threat against Levine would likely be dismissed in court.
“I don’t want to press charges — I just want the noise to stop,” says Levine.
While this particular fireworks-obsessed neighbor doesn’t appear to be very neighborly, we can lay much of the blame to current state law.
It’s difficult to interpret and seems to give remarkable leeway to people who might want to abuse the hospitality and good nature of those around them.
“Georgia law is just a blank slate right now,” Levine says. “Police told me they have no recourse until after 9 p.m. if it’s not one of three designated holidays.”
(On July 3 and 4, you can shoot your fireworks until midnight legally.)
Fireworks other than sparklers were completely illegal in Georgia until 2015 — contributing to South Carolina’s famous cottage industry of gaudy fireworks stands just over the border — when our legislature opted to go in the other direction with a very broad legalization law.
This year, the legislature passed an important tweak. As of July 1, local governments are allowed to supersede state law with their own noise ordinances addressing fireworks. (But not solely addressing fireworks; it has to be part of an overall noise ordinance.)
Levine is one of many nearby residents who contacted police and City officials about the enthusiastic pyromaniac nearby. She says she contacted each City Council member.
“I immediately got four emails back, and one phone call from Julian Miller, which was really kind,” she says, referring to her district alderman.
“They told me almost everyone on Council is on board with a new fireworks ordinance.”
If you discuss fireworks on social media, you usually get one of two responses.
Either folks will say fireworks are upsetting to them and/or their pets, or they say some variant of “Suck it up, buttercup, get over it, ‘cause ‘Merica.”
Yes, I used to be That Guy who thought anyone who complained about fireworks was far too sensitive for their own good.
That is, until I got a canine companion of my own about three years ago, who doesn’t appreciate fireworks at all.
When you walk in someone else’s shoes — or paws — you just might learn something. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, I have switched sides, as it were, and am now Team No Fireworks except for legit community fireworks displays, such as those on River Street or at a Savannah Bananas game.
Thing is, the libertarian internet tough guy argument doesn’t hold water with fireworks anyway.
Fireworks — to use Levine’s words — are “excessive, loud, and unpredictable.” By definition, they cross boundaries and intrude on the privacy and liberty of others.
Fireworks are dangerous to those who shoot them, as well as a fire hazard (which is why they can be banned during a drought).
The only real argument for fireworks is that they are a patriotic tradition — and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
But wouldn’t you want to enjoy such a tradition in a communal fashion, rather than off your front porch in the middle of a crowded neighborhood, with pets and babies all around?
More to the point, and this will perhaps sound more harsh than I intend it to: What kind of person enjoys disturbing the peace and disrupting the private life of their neighbors at odd hours of the day, just because they can?
A growing number of local residents have simply had enough of fireworks, and are making their displeasure known to local officials in the hope that they will follow through.
Some of this opposition to fireworks is no doubt due to the large number of new arrivals to Savannah who’ve moved here from more tightly regulated parts of the country — a phenomenon with much deeper local ramifications than just firecrackers.
But most of it, I think, is simply due to raised societal awareness of PTSD triggering caused by fireworks, and the clearly deleterious effect on many pets.
The bottom line is that beginning this month, Savannah City Government can — and in my opinion, should — craft local regulations restricting the use of fireworks in City limits.
I don’t often advocate for City Council passing more rules, but in this case it’s for a good... wait for it... paws.
AS MANY of you have already heard, our longtime Arts & Entertainment Editor Anna Chandler is leaving us for another opportunity.
She has without question lifted the bar for local music and performing arts coverage in Savannah, and we are deeply grateful for her boundless energy, positive creativity, professional work ethic, and deep insight into what makes Savannah’s cultural fabric so very rich.
We will miss her and we wish her the best.