The Fourth of July is right around the corner and that means fireworks are likely already lighting up the night sky.
For some, the exploding balls of light are a fun, awe-inspiring spectacle. They elicit cheers and wide-eyed stares as they boom and sparkle.
For others, fireworks season is a nightmare. The blasts rattle windows, wake sleeping babies, traumatize veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and freak out nervous dogs.
Sometimes the cascading sparks land on rooftops, igniting potentially dangerous and damaging fires. That happened twice in recent memory in Reading — in the 1000 block of Windsor Street in 2021 and two years earlier at Amanda E. Stout Elementary School.
The concerns over fireworks — in particular their destructive potential — led state lawmakers last summer to pass new restrictions on them. This Fourth of July will be the first they are in effect.
The changes include tighter restrictions on fireworks that empower municipalities to limit when the average consumer can launch them and an increase in penalties for those who break the rules.
The new regulations come following a 2017 law that greatly expanded the sale of fireworks in Pennsylvania but generated thousands of complaints from across the state.
Before that, fireworks in Pennsylvania were largely limited to sparklers and other novelties. The changes permitted the sale of fireworks that meet federal consumer standards.
Local law enforcement officials say they’ve been working to inform residents about the new fireworks restrictions, educating them about what they can and cannot do.
Sgt. Sean Fullerton, Exeter Township Police Department public information officer, said he tries to educate residents on the latest rules and regulations through various platforms.
“That is something we have always done,” he said. “We try to get the word out on social media the best we can.”
Despite those efforts, some residents will undoubtedly still run afoul of the new fireworks restrictions. And that will keep police officers quite busy.
Fullerton said the department uses discretion when responding to complaints about fireworks from unhappy neighbors. While warnings will likely be issued in most cases, he said officers are prepared to enforce the law and levy fines when warranted.
“We try to respond to as many complaints as we can,” he said. “This is something we take very seriously and we try to handle the best way we can with the assets we have. But we do ask for patience on the Fourth of July.”
State Trooper David Beohm, public information officer for Reading-based Troop L, said finding the people responsible for the complaints can be difficult in some situations.
“I know from my patrol days that someone might call in with a street location but that may not be where the fireworks are coming from or they may be gone by the time we arrive,” he said.
And when they do find the people responsible, Beohm said, generally troopers will issue warnings before they file charges.
“We have that latitude,” he said. “Of course, there could always be that person who forces our hand the very first time we go there. But we try to be as fair as we can before we start to cite people.”
Beohm cautioned those who chose to use fireworks this holiday take the proper precautions and follow the rules.
“Just be careful and be considerate of your neighbors,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know about the new fireworks restrictions in Pennsylvania.
What kind of fireworks can you purchase and use?
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, residents can purchase and use consumer-grade fireworks. These include firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material.
Products that contain more than 2 grains or 130 milligrams of explosive material and aerial shells containing more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic compositions are still only to be used by professionals with a permit from the municipality where the display will take place.
Who can purchase fireworks?
Consumer-grade fireworks can only be purchased, possessed and used by those who are over the age of 18. The law states that ground and handheld sparkling devices, and novelties such as snakes, poppers and snaps are not included in consumer fireworks.
Where can fireworks be purchased?
According to state police, consumers can purchase consumer-grade fireworks from brick-and-mortar locations that are licensed by the Department of Agriculture. Consumer fireworks may also be purchased online, but delivery of consumer fireworks to a purchaser shall take place at a licensed, permanent structure.
What are the restrictions on their use?
The following restrictions are in place regarding consumer-grade fireworks:
• They cannot be ignited or discharged on either public or private property without permission of the property owner.
• They cannot be directed at another person, building or vehicle.
• They cannot be discharged or ignited within 150 feet of an occupied building or vehicle regardless if either is owned by the user of the fireworks.
• They cannot be discharged while the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Those who plan to set off fireworks will have to give nearby livestock owners or managers 72 hours notice before fireworks can be used near an animal housing facility.
What restrictions can municipalities impose on fireworks?
State police say municipalities may restrict the use of consumer fireworks between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. except on July 2, 3, 4 and Dec. 31 when they may be used until 1 a.m.
If July 4 falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday they may be used until 1 a.m. on the immediately preceding and following Friday and Saturday.
They also recommend checking with municipalities, as there may be local ordinances for fireworks that apply.
Who enforces state fireworks law?
Any law enforcement officer having jurisdiction may make an arrest and confiscate fireworks under the fireworks law.
What is the penalty for violating a state fireworks law?
The Pennsylvania Fireworks Law of 2022 states:
• A person using consumer-grade fireworks in violation of the law commits a summary offense and will be punished with a fine of not more than $500. If an offense is committed within three years of a prior conviction, it will be punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000.
• A person selling consumer-grade fireworks in violation of the law commits a second-degree misdemeanor and will be punished with a fine of not less than $10,000. If an offense is committed within three years of a prior conviction, it will be punishable by a fine of not less than $15,000 and their license will be revoked.
• A person selling or using display fireworks in violation of the law commits a third degree felony and will be punished by a fine of not less than $10,000. If an offense is committed within three years of a prior conviction, it will be punishable by a fine of not less than $15,000.
Tips for staying safe
In a press release, Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Thomas Cook recommended the following safety precautions:
• Never allow children to play with fireworks, even sparklers, which can burn at temperatures of at least 1200 degrees.
• Only allow adults to light fireworks one at a time, then quickly back away.
• Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
• Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy in case of a fire.
• Never pick up or try to relight fireworks that have not fully ignited.
• After the fireworks have burned, fully douse them with water before picking them up or disposing to prevent trash fires.
• Never use fireworks after consuming alcohol or other substances that can impair judgment or the ability to react quickly to an emergency.
• Whether attending a professional display or using consumer fireworks, maintain a safe distance from the ignition location.
• Be sensitive of neighbors and their pets, particularly if military veterans live nearby.
Source: Berkshire mont