Thursday, July 5, 2018

Grumpy jerk gets city to shut down annual family fireworks display on 13th Street; going since 1984


It's my belief that Columbia Heights is the best place around to watch the 4th of July fireworks -- we're high enough that we can see the big show on the Mall (especially if you're on a roof) and if you look in any direction you'll see tons of DIY displays -- some an occasional bottle rocket, others more impressive (and expensive) displays with almost pro quality incendiaries.

But the fire department had other thoughts -- yesterday the police and fire department showed up at the 3500 block of 13th Street NW to stop the annual display put on by the James family. They've been doing it since 1984. The large crowd present to watch started booing and chanting to let the family patriarch, Mack James, go. He was eventually released and not charged, but the fire department seized all the fireworks, which aren't legal in the city.

DCist had a nice article about the James family on Tuesday, who have been doing a big show every 4th of July since the 80s on the 3500 block of 13th Street NW. They originally did it for their family after they got back from the Mall show, but every year more and more friends would come to watch, and eventually lots of neighbors too.

The shutdown was apparently caused by a man name Dave Statter, a former WUSA reporter who now runs his own site that I refuse to link to. Statter started tweeting at various city and police officials asking them to shut it down, complaining about it and clutching his proverbial pearls. And apparently they heeded his tweets. (DCist, for their part, apologized, but I think they don't have anything to apologize for. It was a nice article and the James family was happy to talk.)

To me, this is extremely lame. Instead of reading the DCist article about the family doing their awesome show for more than thirty years and thinking "wow, how cool!" he thought "I should tweet at every local official I can think of and get this shut down."

This city is chock full of people doing their own fireworks during the 4th of July -- it's part of the charm of the holiday, especially around Columbia Heights. And this display has been going on since 1984, and draws a big crowd of neighbors every year. People love it. I would argue it's part of our city's culture.

In my opinion, the fire department and police had to know about it and chose to do nothing about it until this keyboard commando vigilante nerd starting making a fuss. They probably have more important things to do otherwise.

Luckily there were enough other fireworks displays around our area. No thanks to Dave Statter.

Photo by Jonathan Coffey

16 comments:

  1. I will graciously accept "grumpy jerk". Thank you. It isn't the first time I've heard something like that when either reporting on or later advocating for things that protect the public and firefighters from harm. I'm also sure it won't be the last. What you left out of your fascinating coverage of the "grumpy jerk" is that there were 89 fires last night in the District of Columbia started by fireworks with eight people injured. My experience as a firefighter (ancient history and only for 6 years) and more extensive experience either reporting on or working with fire and EMS is that type of fireworks being fired in an occupied neighborhood such as 13th Street is every bit as smart as the long tradition of firing guns into the air on July 4th or New Years. In other words, not very. BTW an 11-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet last night along with the others hurt by fireworks. My sole purpose in writing about this is safety. I love and support neighborhood gatherings and don't care about the noise. But firing rockets like these in occupied neighborhood is reckless and greatly endangers the public and the firefighters who will have to respond to fires they start. You may not be aware, but even at permitted & inspected fireworks public displays with the fire department standing by, shit happens and people get seriously injured. If you want a first hand account, ask the current fire chief in Loudoun County about an experience he had in Fairfax County a few years back and the impact on the victims. You think Mr. James takes more safety precautions than those commercial displays? Do you think he is ready to handle the liability when something goes wrong? Do you think he has liability insurance that will cover setting a nearby home on fire or injuring one of his shooters or a bystander? How will that work? Do you think DC should exempt only Mr. James from the law or everybody who wants to fire illegal fireworks wherever and whenever they want? How will that work? If you really think that a has-been reporter who isn't even a DC resident has that much sway over your officials maybe you need to look more closely at them. One more thing before I go, if you are going to call someone juvenile names why not at least have the balls to put your own name on the product just like I do? Been doing my website for 11 years and everything has my full name and not just an initial. It's a good practice and enhances credibility. Thanks for thinking of me. And I will happily link to you even though you won't share mine.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. You have your opinion and viewpoint and I have mine. Like I said above, this is a beloved neighborhood tradition and it’s been going on for more than 30 years and you got it shut down. And like you mention above, you don’t even live in the city. I wouldn’t try to get the government of wherever you live to change their municipal policies. It’s my belief that you making a big stink about it and tweeting at every local official forced them to do something much more than the DCist post, the response to which was very positive. Furthermore, there are plenty of things that are illegal that the police and fire department don’t pursue because they use their discretion, and I appreciate that. I do agree that we (as in, DC residents) should talk to our officials about this, since clearly we all support it. This has been going on since 1984. And if you just wanted to stop it, why surveil them and put the guy in cuffs? Why not just go to his house earlier in the day and talk with him? As for the “balls” charge, you can find my full name via a simple internet search, or on the about page of this very site http://newcolumbiaheights.blogspot.com/p/about-this-blog.html

      Good day.

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    2. As I wrote in my post tonight, the unanswered question in the news coverage is if someone did visit Mr. James ahead of time. It would seem to me that was the smart way to avoid a confrontation. Again, I comment on safety issues impacting firefighters all over the country. Have been doing it with my website for 11 years. Doesn't matter to me where it is. And please, comment away on Northern Virginia. So, do you think police should just excuse Mack James because he has a tradition or excuse everyone?

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  2. Sean Last InitialJuly 5, 2018 at 9:32 PM

    "I wouldn’t try to get the government of wherever you live to change their municipal policies." He was trying to get existing ordinances enforced in the name of safety, not commando vigilantism.

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    1. Policy is different than law. Andrew said "policy". You misread.

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  3. Neighborhood denizenJuly 6, 2018 at 9:10 AM

    I like the fireworks too, but like it or not they're illegal, and once the article was published the city had to do something about it, with or without the "grumpy jerk." If you like them please write to Brianne Nadeau and ask her to work to change the law (and do let us know how *that* goes), but selective enforcement of the law is inherently unfair.

    Also I can't believe DCist's editor in chief is actually admitting she didn't consider the consequences or running that article. Anything for clicks! I was hoping in their new incarnation they would display a little more professionalism.

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    1. Yeah, one thing I agree with Dave about is contacting the government about it. I tend to think that because it wasn't shut down for 30+ years, they didn't see it as a problem, but when pointed out by someone, it's hard to ignore. Let's hope they ignore it going forward.

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    2. You are a very fair man Andrew W. Not many these days will give any points to the people they disagree with. That point is the one that started me writing about this. It was an ethical and safety dilemma for officials that I outlined in my original post on STATter911, my fire service blog. I did go beyond that in my Tweets because of my concerns about fire safety that extend well beyond just DC.

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    3. Agreed. No way would an opposing opinion be published on PoPville, Dan has an ego and doesn't allow anything that thoughtfully critiques his or his sponsors' viewpoints. It is really unfortunate.

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  4. Sorry, but Mr. Grumpy is wrong here. Please give evidence for the need to shut down an unsafe fireworks display if after 30 years it has been going off without issue. I understand the need to prevent injuries and overburdening public services, but maybe you should be targeting problems that exist rather than taking down one that you have made up in order to pontificate how much more you care about public safety than the rest of us. Get off your high horse, you arrogant, malcontent.

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    1. Mr Grumpy here. Firefighters and the public have died just because of that attitude. It's what I do in life. Sorry safety is offensive to you. Tell the family of Michael Seguin this is a problem that doesn't exist. I will let you research that a minute. Tell the survivors and families of victims of The Station fire in R.I. that amateurs shooting off illegal fireworks without following safety proper procedures and proper training is not a problem. I may be an arrogant, malcontent but I guarantee you this is a consistent position of mine based on my life's work. I am comfortable with what I have written. No high horse here.

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  5. Yeah, a fire consuming 13th St. is just what Columbia Heights needs! Come on. Grow up. There are laws against fireworks for VERY good reason. It is not just overbearing government trying to spoil your fun.

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  6. This should go without saying, DO NOT post anyone’s personal information in the comments.

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  7. Muhuhhh my tradition.. fuck everybody else right ?

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