Public Safety Official Urges Caution During Holiday Celebrations

Jul 3, 2019

Bullets that go up have to come down, warned Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. He warned that shooting firearms in the air in celebration during the Fourth of July could have deadly consequences. 

"That's very dangerous," he said at a press conference on Independence Day safety held Wednesday afternoon. "That's more dangerous than shooting fireworks, firing weapons in the air." 

Hissrich said that thanks to the city's ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system, police can be at the location of the gunshot within minutes.

The sensors are able to tell the difference between fireworks and gunfire, his office later explained. (The audio is processed by machine algorithms that determine whether the sound is gunfire or something else. The algorithm is 95 percent accurate, and humans also monitor the system to increase accuracy.) But Hissrich noted that fireworks can pose dangers too.

Commercial fireworks are now legal in Pennsylvania, but Hissrich said he wishes they weren't. 

"Any firework, in my opinion, could be potentially dangerous if you don't use it properly," he said. "I've heard some stories where children are playing with fireworks and they're getting burned because they don't understand caution and warnings on the fireworks... If it was up to me I'd do away with all [commercial] fireworks, but I know that's not going to happen." 

The city expects large crowds at Point State Park, Mount Washington, Downtown and the North Shore for the annual fireworks display. There will be police presence, including plainclothes officers at the park and bag checks, as well as extra police patrolling in the neighborhoods. 

Hissrich suggested that people also be mindful of the weather. Thunderstorms are expected tomorrow, and he suggested that park visitors locate nearby shelter in case of lightning.