Abbotsford man unhappy after dispatcher suggests neighbours celebrating ‘safely’ with fireworks

The use of fireworks has been banned in Abbotsford for more than a decade

An Abbotsford man is questioning the enforcement of the city’s fireworks ban he complained about a neighbour’s roman candles landing in his yard only to be told that his neighbours were celebrating “safely.”

Alex Green said he called police Wednesday night after debris from roman candles set off next door landed in his back yard. He said he was particularly concerned because several homes in the area have cedar shakes on their roofs.

Green said he called the non-emergency police line, only to be told to call 911 if he was worried about public safety. When he did so, he was told that his complaints shouldn’t be handled by 911. Green ended up texting the APD with his complaint, but when he followed up later to ask about the chance that an officer would attend, he was told: “It looks like police have already attended and they advised that it is numerous families in the area celebrating Diwali safely.”

Green said he was surprised by the suggestion that the celebrations were occurring “safely,” noting that fireworks are banned in the city.

“I thought fireworks are a big deal,” he said. “Either dump [the bylaw] in the garbage can, or enforce it.”

Green said he was later contacted by an officer who told him that the APD only had 11 officers on shift.

Abbotsford Police Sgt. Judy Bird told The News that complaints about fireworks are taken seriously, although all calls are handled on a priority basis, with bylaw complaints sometimes taking a backseat to those involving crimes.

But Bird said Green shouldn’t be left thinking police excuse the lighting of fireworks if done “safely.”

She noted that when people call 911 or text the APD, they end up communicating with a dispatcher working out of Vancouver and handling calls for dozens of communities with different fireworks rules and policies. She said anyone displeased with the response from dispatchers should call the APD’s non-emergency line and ask to speak to a supervisor at the APD.

Bird said residents are encouraged to call in with fireworks complaints, and promised that police will eventually attend to every call.

The use of fireworks has been prohibited in Abbotsford since 2005. The ban was brought into effect not long after then-mayor Mary Reeves narrowly avoided injury from a thrown incendiary device during a ride-along with police.

The explosive activity on the city’s streets drew comparisons to some war zones, and, in 2003, fireworks were blamed for 39 fires. On another year, three youth were significantly injured by the devices.

In 2016, after a fireworks industry representative asked council to ease its ban, fire chief Don Beer said the number of injuries and fires had been significantly reduced. Council later declined to lift the fireworks ban.

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