Public Asked to be Mindful of Neighbors, Animals on New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2019, 12:00 PM HST (Updated December 31, 2019, 12:18 PM)
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As New Year’s Eve celebrations abound this evening, county officials hope neighbors will keep each other in mind when lighting off their celebratory fireworks, as they can scare animals and cause distress among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The county has already received numerous complaints about fireworks and homemade explosive devices that disturb residents and their animals. The Hawai‘i County Fire Department has issued a warning regarding the use of illegal fireworks and the impacts they have on the community, pets and livestock.

“The problem seems to be growing in various neighborhoods, and it poses a potential hazard,” said Fire Chief Darren Rosario. “We urge the community to be considerate of their neighbors by not using illegal fireworks or explosives.”

Those at the Veterans Affairs office in Kona hope the public will be mindful of the community’s veterans.

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Daniel Edwards, mental health team leader at the Kona clinic, said the issue of fireworks does occasionally come up for those who are in treatment.

“They might have a narrative in their head that (the sound of fireworks is) life threatening,” Edwards said. “It can lead to panic attacks, anxiety attacks, nightmares and sometimes flashbacks.

Edwards said he knows the world is not going to change based on one person’s individual needs. So, he tries to prepare his veterans when these types of holidays come up.

“If they can’t cope at all with it, try to leave the area completely,” he said. “They can also talk to their neighbors about lighting fireworks at certain times.”

Edwards also advised those who struggle with fireworks to darken the room they’re in and get ear plugs.

“Remind themselves that they have this emotional urge — that they’re not in danger,” he said.

Edwards also encourages veterans to seek help. There is a 24-hour veterans crisis line they can call at 800-273-8255. They can also text 838-255.

“Cope ahead when possible and express it to those who can be supportive of these (struggles),” Edwards said, adding alcohol can make it more difficult to manage the issues.

Officials at Hawai‘i Island Humane Society also advise pet owners to keep their animals indoors and provide a safe space for them to hide, such as a crate if they’re crate trained.

Lauren Nickerson, spokeswoman for HIHS, said playing soothing music or using a white noise sound machine can help block out the sounds of fireworks.

“Prior to fireworks, take your dog for a long walk and provide opportunities for mental enrichment like food puzzles or stuffed Kong toys,” Nickerson said. “The goal is to have a relaxed pup who feels safe and secure when the booms start popping.”

HIHS officials also recommend keeping a collar on pets with an identification tag and current contact information.

“This will help us reunite your pet with you in the event that they get lost and brought to our shelters,” Nickerson said.

Hefty fines and penalties, including imprisonment, can be levied against those who light off illegal fireworks. Fireworks may be legally used with a permit during a limited period including the Fourth of July, New Year’s and Chinese New Year.

The use of illegal fireworks may be a felony punishable by up to five years of incarceration and fines of up to $2,000 per offense. Parents, guardians and other persons having the custody or control of a minor who knowingly allow the minor to explode any fireworks may be held liable.

Liability may also extend to a homeowner, renter or person otherwise responsible for real property who knowingly allows an individual to explode any aerial device while on the real property.

For further information, contact the Hawai‘i Fire Department at 808-932-2900.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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