Proposal for silent fireworks displays ditched by Halifax city council

·3 min read

HALIFAX — City councillors in Halifax have scrapped the idea of using "silent fireworks" to transform municipal pyrotechnic displays into more inclusive events for those who are triggered by loud noises.

They instead endorsed a staff report this week that concluded there is no such thing as silent fireworks, and that substituting hundreds of LED-equipped drones for regular fireworks would be too expensive. "The term 'silent fireworks' is misleading," the report said, citing a study from the Scottish city of Edinburgh that concluded "these silent firework displays are neither silent nor quiet."

Meanwhile, the Alberta town of Banff replaced its traditional 2019 Canada Day and New Year’s Eve fireworks shows with low-altitude, low-noise pyrotechnic displays, mainly to reduce the impact on wildlife. But a letter from town officials in Banff confirmed the "in-person explosions" were loud enough to echo off the surrounding mountains.

The staff report said Halifax should continue making every effort to provide advance warning of public fireworks displays. And it recommended requiring all grant applications for fireworks shows to include proof of notification to the community.

"Staff understand … that it is not the major fireworks events (holidays, traditions) that may cause trauma," the report said, specifically pointing to those coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorder. "Instead, it is primarily the unplanned, surprise displays that happen outside of the major holidays and often held in neighbourhoods without advance notice that (trigger) anxiety, panic attacks or a flashback scenario for combat veterans who suffer with PTSD."

The city's stay-the-course approach, however, presents a moderate risk to the city's reputation, the report said. "The municipality could be perceived as insensitive to the impact of fireworks displays on those on the autism spectrum and individuals suffering from PTSD."

"The staff recommendations on requiring grant applicants to provide proof of notification to the community, continued municipal notifications when using fireworks and continued used of pyrotechnics in some instances mitigate this risk."

The report was prepared in response to complaints received after the 2018 Canada Day fireworks display in Bedford, N.S., which is part of the Halifax region. At that time, a resident complained the show sounded like “bombs going off.” The complainant also suggested the noise could have a negative impact on local wildlife, pets and those suffering from anxiety and PTSD.

City staff noted the municipality already uses two types of fireworks displays: one for big events that require commercial fireworks and 150 metres of clearance from spectators; and the second version for smaller events that need expensive, close-proximity pyrotechnic-grade fireworks that require only 90 metres of clearance.

The region typically hosts ten fireworks displays annually, seven of which are the larger, louder shows. The big shows, like the Canada Day display in Halifax, require a barge placed in the middle of the harbour.

The city could opt for more close-proximity shows, but experts say those displays cost up to four times as much as a traditional show. As well, they are less dramatic and can be quite loud.

As part of the city's consultation process, Autism Nova Scotia submitted a letter stating that inclusion means taking steps to ensure fireworks displays cause as little stress as possible. The organization called for advanced notice and opting for quieter, more sensory-conscious displays. The province's Office of Diversity and Inclusion also called for a robust notification system.

As for drones, the report noted that cities in California, Arizona and Colorado have been using drones and lasers instead of commercial fireworks on the Fourth of July to reduce the risk of wildfires.

"Each display can need anywhere from 100 to 500 drones," the report said. "Laser shows, another option instead of fireworks, in many cases, do not suit the character of some of the more traditional cities and they, too, can be cost prohibitive for many cities in Canada."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2021.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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