• Illegal fireworks big concern for first responders in the sky

    By: Mike Saccone , Litsa Pappas

    Updated:

    BEDFORD, Mass. - Illegal fireworks are not only dangerous to the people setting them off, but they’re also a big concern for first responders in the sky. 

    Southbridge Police investigated a report of illegal fireworks being set off behind Harrington Hospital late Sunday night as a Life Flight medical helicopter was coming to pick up a patient. Harrington Hospital requested the Life Light helicopter to transport the patient to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. The Life Flight pilot didn’t see any fireworks on approach or while landing, but fireworks did go off as the crew was walking into the emergency room to get the patient. Security notified police of the location the fireworks were being set off from. The fireworks didn’t end up being a problem during take-off.  

    The Life Flight helicopter is operated by the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

    Boston MedFlight hasn’t had any recent problems with illegal or unplanned fireworks being set off, but Boston 25 News reached out to the Bedford-based company to understand their concerns about fireworks. 

    Rick Kenin, Chief Operating Officer at Boston MedFlight, said his crews can be startled by the fireworks, which in turn affects flight safety. Legitimate fireworks operators let them know in advance the time and location they’re going to be shooting off fireworks, so his crews know to avoid flying over the specified areas.

    MedFlight crews often fly at night and wear night vision goggles to help them see. 

    “The flash of the fireworks can white out the night vision goggles, so the pilot and crew are essentially blind for a split second until they regain their night vision,” Kenin said. 

    Kenin said the fireworks, depending on their size, could also come into contact with the helicopters.

    “We wouldn’t be so concerned about small fireworks close to the ground, but for larger bottle rockets and bottle rockets and other fireworks potentially damage the aircraft, the rotor system, the tail wing or even the engines,” Kenin said. 

    Kenin said if one of his crews sees fireworks, they’re not going to land to pick up a patient, which means a delay. The patients being transported by medical helicopters are often in need of critical care and any delay can impact their health or future outcome. 

    “If we’re coming up to pick up a patient in a landing zone and we see fireworks, we would delay and circle around until the first responders – be it the police or the firefighters – can identify who is shooting off the fireworks and apprehend them or stop them,” Kenin said. 

    Kenin wants people to be mindful the impact setting off fireworks can have on people in the sky. 

    “People don’t think about who’s flying above them when they’re shooting off bottle rockets or fireworks, but there are a lot of aircraft flying around, potentially at low altitude, that could be affected by fireworks,” Kenin said. 

    Boston MedFlight transports about a dozen patients every day.

    Next Up: