West Side neighborhood streets slowly rumbled to life Wednesday morning as residents stepped outside to sweep up thousands of tiny July Fourth fireworks.
Born in this neighborhood 83 years ago, Paul G. Rojas has lived here most of his life and is used to cleaning up.
“I could run for president on this corner,” he laughs, waving at familiar trucks driving by.
Rojas, a former member of the Missouri General Assembly, said the drivers are West Side residents patrolling the neighborhood and making sure the fireworks are cleaned up properly. The West Side, he said, disposes of the fireworks without any reliance on the city.
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“We sweep clean, pick up and haul it away at our own expense,” Rojas said. “See my water hose? I already washed this sidewalk here. And I will be washing the whole street all the way down after I sweep. No debris here goes into the sewer.”
Fireworks are illegal in Kansas City, but that doesn’t seem to deter residents from setting them off.
Cleanup is generally left to neighbors, but not all are as diligent as the West Side. In Kansas City as a whole, residents can fill and set out a maximum of 12 trash bags from the holiday per house, but there is no official city-run fireworks cleanup, according to the city.
West Side volunteers on each block started in the middle of the street and swept debris into side piles. The largest fireworks boxes, burned and piled together, were bagged and eventually picked up. Residents said it’s the price for keeping tradition and launching hundreds of fireworks.
Frankie Aguirre, 73, was outside sweeping until 4 a.m. Wednesday. He was born and raised in the West Side and said he likes to see everybody have a good time on the block.
“All my life here in Kansas City, I’ve been doing this,” he said.
The West Side may be more organized, but not everyone is on board with fireworks when cleanups don’t happen properly.
Brookside Park neighbors told Fox 4 they were unhappy with the mess left at the park. While they liked the show, they told the station they wished whoever was responsible would have cleaned up afterward.
Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams lives in Hyde Park and said in a Facebook post Wednesday that “piles of firework filth” threaten Hyde Park green spaces, mar neighborhoods and are a safety hazard.
She understands that West Side adults pay close attention to cleanups, but other neighborhoods need more enforcement.
“It used to be people just doing some sparklers, fire crackers, some bottle rockets one night a week, but now we see people lining up $500 worth of fireworks in green spaces in Hyde Park,” she said. “I drove down the street in Columbus Park where there were just massive amounts of trash by the side of the road, and nobody was cleaning it. That’s everywhere.”
Others close to Williams are rallying for fines when the fireworks go past midnight and aren’t cleaned up.
“I don’t hate fireworks — I actually really like them,” she said. “I just don’t like them booming at 3 a.m. for days, scaring children, pets and veterans.”