Though fireworks have served as a visual symbol of celebration over the years for various holidays and noteworthy events, residents across the county have reported “unusual” explosions constantly erupting throughout the nights.
“They’re not like little cherry bombs and pops. They’re big booms,” said Melody, a San Bruno resident of five years who declined to give her last name.
Melody compared the recent explosions to wartime bombs and said normally the fireworks strike her as celebratory, often being set off around the Fourth of July and in the winter months of December and January.
“San Bruno is a pretty pro-firework city. ... Those two months I’d be like ‘here we go again,’ but it didn’t usually bother me. It’s festive and I’m not particularly noise sensitive,” said Melody.
She lives in what she describes as a nice neighborhood with nice neighbors where she has always felt very safe. But since the beginning of June, she has been reluctant to take her dog Phoenix on walks around the block because of the constant explosions and the smoke that ensues.
While the air quality has hindered her quality of life by further restricting already limited outings due to COVID-19, she said Phoenix has shown no signs of distress despite taking fewer or shorter walks.
Officials from the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA provided advice for pet owners concerned for the well-being of their animals while the explosions persist, suggesting to leave the TV, radio or fan on to drown out the sound of the fireworks.
“Dogs can become so scared they break through fences and gates fleeing their yards, become lost and are brought into our shelter as strays. They arrive scared and often with minor injuries such as cuts on their paws. Some simple tips can help prevent these tragedies from happening,” PHS spokeswoman Buffy Martin Tarbox said in a press release.
Officials also recommended pet owners keep drapes or blinds drawn while animals are home and to ensure animals have proper identification. A microchip placed just under the skin of pets is recommended to ensure the animals can be identified if their collars are lost.
“By following these simple tips, pet owners can help keep their pets safe and out of harm’s way,” said Tarbox.
While some worry the fireworks may scare their animals with greater hearing sensitivities, those with previous experienced traumas may also be affected.
“The thing about trauma is that the person’s boundaries were violated. Firework can be a representation of boundary violation and someone could get protective of their space,” said Anna Izzo, a therapist with One Life Counseling Center trained to assist those with post-traumatic stress disorder such as veterans and those people from dangerous communities.
Izzo explained that when an individual experiences any form of trauma in which they believe their life is in danger resulting in an increased heart rate above 100 and high blood pressure, a fight, flight or freeze response can be triggered. Whatever safety response is initiated can become the go-to reaction from someone as they continue to experience external stimuli such as the explosion of fireworks.
“The more times a person experiences the trauma, the more connected that stimuli plus emotions plus reaction will be. This means the stronger the connection will be with the fear response,” said Izzo.
She said reactions can range from tolerance of the rush of energy to a more combative approach of addressing those setting off the fireworks head-on. She advised that loved ones pay attention to feelings of agitation and irritability and attempt to be soothing while understanding feelings of frustration are directed toward the external stimuli.
“A complicating factor is that people who have experienced a lot of trauma have grown accustomed to their needs and feelings not being important. They learned nobody cares or that they have to get really big emotions before someone will help them,” she said. “The only time someone can really heal is when they feel emotionally calm and safe.”
Self-soothing methods include taking deep breaths and exhaling for as long as possible, up to 20 seconds, said Izzo. She also recommends attempting to inhale and exhale through a straw or to obtain a heart rate monitor.
Cities across the county have implored residents to refrain from taking part in setting off fireworks. San Bruno and Pacifica are the only two cities in the county which permit “safe and sane” fireworks, a type of firework that does not explode or leave the ground.
Enforcement of bans range from a $200 fine in Pacifica to upward of $50,000 fine or jail time in Redwood City. As of now, one person has been cited following a vehicle fire due to the use of fireworks, said Lt. Stephanie Josephson with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
“I would say anecdotally that there are more complaints of fireworks this year than there were last year but I don’t have exact numbers on that. We do encourage people to report those instances to the local jurisdiction,” Josephson said through email.
In light of current civil unrest, Melody said she feels residents should hesitate with policing neighbors and only call the police if solid information has been gathered.
“I don’t want to add fuel to the fire and I don’t want [officers] to be knocking on people’s doors unless they have good evidence,” she said.