Homecoming fireworks replaced with new pyrotechnics

Environmental, wildlife concerns end yearly Oak Park tradition


The Talon

Fireworks late at night disturb the birds as they are resting because they are not adapted to these conditions

By Olivia Buccieri, Oak Park High School

Birds falling from the sky, houses burning down and dogs having panic attacks. These are some of the possible phenomena observed when fireworks go off, particularly around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

Superintendent Tony Knight worked alongside Principal Kevin Buchanan and the Associated Student Body of Oak Park High School to replace the annual fireworks at this year’s homecoming football game Friday, Oct. 5. After receiving complaints from Oak Park residents about last year’s homecoming fireworks, administration aims to produce a more environmentally friendly and community-sensitive display.

“We do things a little differently in Oak Park where we’re extra sensitive to the environment and wildlife and our neighbors,” Knight said. “We really try to be good neighbors.”

Last year’s Outer Space theme at homecoming featured a Delorean modeled after the one from the “Back to the Future” film series. This year’s new theme, composed of a mixture between the swinging 1920s and “The Great Gatsby,” will be accompanied by a new form of pyrotechnics: ground rockets. When school administration had not definitively decided on a suitable alternative, there was discussion of nitro-blasters, laser light shows or sparklers. However, least likely to occur was a laser light show due to high costs and because it requires smoke pumped into the air to see the lasers clearly.

“For homecoming there’s always a desire to do something new and splashy,” Knight said.

Buchanan said the school failed to effectively notify the community about the fireworks at last year’s homecoming game.

“Our firework display came four days after the Las Vegas shooting at the iHeartRadio Festival, and some people in our community were there and they were still shaken up by it,” Buchanan said. “Then we throw up all these fireworks and people think there’s a shooting on campus.”

In the past, the Oak Park community has not hosted a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Even though homecoming games usually exhibit fireworks during halftime, Knight said wildlife will often be disturbed by the noise, due to their acute sense of hearing, which may cause them to panic from fear, stress and anxiety. According to the West Sound Wildlife Shelter in Washington, animal shelters report an influx of domesticated or stray animals roaming in urban areas during fireworks, often wounded from attempts to escape.

The New York Times even reported in 2011 that over 5,000 blackbirds in Beebe, Arkansas, fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve, dying upon impact with trees, fences, billboards, houses and other objects.

“When fireworks go off in the dark at night, birds are in their nests at night resting, and there are other kinds of daytime animals who are resting at night and are awakened and scared and will oftentimes flee,” Knight said. “They’re not adapted for that kind of situation, it’s completely unnatural. They may injure themselves, kill themselves or get disoriented.”

Awarded the Best Green Schools–School System Award for 2018, Oak Park High School consistently enacts changes to aid the environment: altering the pesticide and rodenticides program, protecting mountain lions and birds of prey, hosting “Super Saturday,” building solar panels, planting over 900 trees district-wide, and installing LED lights on the football field. However, not every environmental concern can always be accounted for.

With recent climate change fluxuations impacting temperatures, fire hazards become increasingly present, including fires started by fireworks. In Oct. 2017, the Thomas fire devastated Ventura County during the “Northern California firestorm,” while the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa became the most destructive wildfire in California history by burning down around 3,000 homes.

“I think everybody recognizes that we’re in one of the most serious drought situations in California; we’ve been watching the entire state burning down,” Knight said. “We need to be extra careful regarding fire issues … There’s always an opportunity for an error.”

In 2013, the American Pyrotechnics Association reported that annually “the skies over the nation are graced with over 14,000 Independence Day fireworks displays.” While organized aerial displays account for part of this, the APA reports that 88 percent of the total 2013 United States fireworks sales came from consumer use.

Fireworks became an ingrained part of American celebration around Independence Day July 3, 1776. John Adams best captured this historical moment in a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, describing festivities he thought should commemorate the day: “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

“We want a show, we want a spectacular-like spectacle,” Buchanan said.

ASB has partnered with SOS Entertainment over the past few years for school events like prom, homecoming and rallies.

“I think fireworks are a big part of what makes halftime amazing, but there are other solutions such as nitro-blasters, which are from a company we work with called SOS Entertainment, that provide the same kind of light and spectacular show without the consequences of conventional fireworks,” senior and ASB President Danielle Gould said.

Instead of shooting fireworks off the baseball field, Buchanan said the display will most likely be placed on the football field in front of the audience.

“I don’t think [moving away from fireworks] will change the dynamics in the terms of the celebration,” Buchanan said. “We also have to be mindful of the game; homecoming is a game — we can’t take up too much time at the halftime.”

Although the need for debris clean-up from the fireworks will be reduced, ASB has experienced student pushbacks for alternatives.

“I’m working as a liaison between [ASB adviser Heidi] Cissell and the class to try to make sure that everyone is OK with the decisions being made and that no one feels overshadowed or unheard,” Gould said. “A lot of the seniors especially feel that fireworks are necessary to the halftime show and a tradition that they don’t want to break.”

Knight said the administration is attempting to re-emphasize what he calls a “Climate of Care” on school campus in regards to the health, wellness and safety of students.

“We want to instill in people that ‘compassionate, global citizens,’ which is our motto in the district, means something. Sometimes it means sacrificing, and sometimes it means being innovative, like instead of a fireworks show you do something that’s even cooler,” Knight said. “Rather than being stuck in tradition, things could be even better.”

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on September 18, 2018.