By Crystal Burns
A fireworks-related injury on July 4 rekindled the debate about allowing fireworks to be sold and used in Trenton at the July 9 City Council meeting.
According to Police Chief Bill Cusson, a 16-year-old from Milan was injured when he attempted to shoot a mortar round, which he was holding in his hand. The incident occurred between Third and Fourth streets on Lexington Street, Cusson said.
The youth was transported by ambulance to a Jackson hospital and was later taken to a hospital in Memphis, the chief said. It is believed he lost portions of his index and middle fingers on one hand, and his thumb sustained significant damage.
Cusson said he does not know how the accident happened – if the mortar misfired or the juvenile put more than one mortar into the tube.
Ruby Ganaway, who lives on Third St., addressed the Mayor and Board of Aldermen last week, saying she and other neighbors are tired of fireworks being used in the city. Ganaway asked the board to ban fireworks at the May 14 City Council meeting, telling aldermen that young people shooting fireworks vandalized her home last year.
Ganaway said there was “chaos” with fireworks on her street again this July 4.
“I stood at my door, I know for quite some time, and I bet it was 100 children or whoever was messing on that street with fireworks,” she said. “I stood at my door, and they looked at me like…they don’t have no respect for authority. They don’t have no respect for anything.”
Ganaway said the injury to the 16-year-old did not stop the others from shooting their fireworks.
“Will someone have to lose their lives before fireworks are no longer shot here?” she asked.
Ganaway thanked the police officers and firefighters for “doing their jobs” but said fireworks are deadly.
“I just want to see something done because frankly, I no longer want to see [fireworks] shot in Trenton, Tenn. anymore,” she said. “I really don’t, and if something had been done when I first came down here to ask you all to do something, I don’t think that little boy’s hand would’ve been gone now.”
Alderman Bubba Abbott asked Ganaway if she could identify the perpetrators and asked her how old they are. Ganaway said it’s hard call them out in the dark, and they “scatter” as soon as they see police cars. She noted that although she referred to the injured party as a little boy, the culprits are often older teens and even some young adults engaging in “fireworks wars.”
“These are people who are old enough to know better,” Ganaway said.
Rev. Charles Glen also spoke out against fireworks.
Kevin Allen, a resident of Lombardy St. addressed the board about another matter but added he would be in favor of banning fireworks. He said anyone could start a petition and gather 250 signatures to have it brought as a referendum on the ballot for Trenton or Gibson County, saying he would “be more than glad to sign it.”
On July 4, 2017, a vacant home on E. Second St. burned. No injuries were reported, but Fire Chief Terrence Elam said at the time that “fireworks wars” between children likely started the blaze.
Cusson confirmed the “fireworks wars” Ganaway mentioned this year. He said the Trenton Police Department received well over 30 calls about misuse of fireworks between July 3 and 5. On four or five occasions, fireworks were shot at police officers or their patrol cars, Cusson said.
Cusson expressed particular concern over the mortar type fireworks. He asked that he and Elam be included in any meetings about the city’s fireworks ordinance, which currently prohibits the sale or use of bottle rockets and provides an 8-day window (June 27-July 4) for selling and shooting fireworks in the city limits. The ordinance also bans the use of fireworks after 10 p.m. and on city streets.
Cusson made educating the community a priority this year, printing pamphlets with information about the ordinance and fireworks safety tips for officers to distribute while on patrol and publishing an article with that information in The Gazette on June 18.
Phillip Norris, pastor of The Father’s House Pentecostal Church in Trenton, and Chad Hunt, owner of Crazy K Fireworks, which sets up in Trenton each year, said banning the sale of fireworks in the city won’t stop the misuse and abuse of fireworks.
Norris’ church sells fireworks as an annual fundraiser, and he admitted a ban would hurt the congregation, but they would “get by.”
Norris explained some of the safety measures they employ, such as posting signs to remind customers that youth 15 years of age and under must be accompanied by an adult, and youth aged 16 and 17 must have a state issued photo ID in order to purchase fireworks. Norris also said that the packaging on nearly all fireworks come with written and visual safety instructions.
“We want people to have a good time and celebrate the greatest country in the world,” Norris said. “When fireworks are used properly, they are safe.”
He called the 16-year-old’s accident a “gut punch.”
Norris also spoke to Ganaway’s comments about lack of respect for authority.
“The problem is not the fireworks,” he said. The problem is we have a societal issue.”
Hunt said there is a small group of consumers abusing the products, but the large percentage use fireworks appropriately.
“To penalize everybody for the actions of a few seems overbearing,” Hunt said.
Aldermen weigh in
Aldermen Billie Wade and Rickey Graves weighed in on the issue.
Wade said he loves fireworks, but traditions sometimes have to change. He proposed that if city leaders continue to allow fireworks in the city limits, they should establish designated areas for their use.
Graves, who shot commercial fireworks shows for 20 years, said fireworks can be safe and called for compromise.
“I think [fireworks] can be controlled if we choose to keep them in the city, but we need to get more people involved,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make before the next time,” Mayor Ricky Jackson said.