There were “a lot of eyes on Lancaster” Tuesday evening, fire Chief Scott Little told City Council as members prepared to vote on a de facto ban on consumer-grade fireworks.
A few moments later, the ban was approved, putting Lancaster in the vanguard of Pennsylvania municipalities.
York, Easton and Wilkes-Barre are among the communities looking to follow Lancaster’s lead, Little said. Easton has requested a copy of the ordinance, Lancaster City Clerk Bernard Harris said, while Wilkes-Barre held a press conference Wednesday afternoon regarding its plans for legislation modeled on Lancaster’s.
“Lancaster city did a really good job with their ordinance, and we’re looking to do the exact same thing in Wilkes-Barre,” its fire chief, Jay Delaney, told LNP.
Delaney heads the Pennsylvania Career Fire Chiefs Association. He praised Little’s efforts to get the word out and make other departments and cities aware of Lancaster's action.
The ordinance builds on Pennsylvania’s new fireworks law, passed last year. The law liberalized the types of fireworks that can be sold — which the chiefs' association opposed, Delaney said — but prohibits them from being set off within 150 feet of a house or other “occupied structure.”
That rules out most places in a dense city like Lancaster. The new ordinance cites the state law and bars the use of fireworks on city property, including streets, sidewalks and parks.
Violators of the state law can be fined up to $100. Little said a resident complaint alone wouldn’t be enough to prove a violation; police would have to see the infraction.
The key thing, he said, is to educate residents and increase awareness of the dangers fireworks pose.
WATCH: Fireworks safety PSA
Source: Lancaster City Alliance
Nationwide, there were eight fireworks-related fatalities in 2017 and an estimated 12,900 fireworks-related injuries serious enough to require emergency room visits, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Two-thirds of the injuries occurred in a 30-day window around July 4.
The state law is in force now, but city ordinances take effect 20 days after passage, so the enhancements in the city’s measure won’t apply until the third week of July.
Lancaster's action does not apply to professional fireworks displays, which go through a permitting process.
What Pa.’s law says
According to the state police, consumer-grade fireworks that were addressed in the new state law include “firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material.”
Smaller fireworks, such as “ground and hand-held sparkling devices,” “novelties” or “toy caps” were already permitted in Pennsylvania and were not addressed in the new law.
Resident Jean Weglarz praised the city and council for taking action. Quality of life goes “down the tubes” during fireworks season, she said: “You have made my holiday.”
In other business, Council authorized a $75,000 appropriation to reimburse the Boys & Girls Club for work related to an environmental covenant needed for Roberto Clemente Field.
The vote was 6-1; Councilwoman Janet Diaz cast the “no” vote. She told LNP she did so on behalf of constituents who object to the plans to control access to the park after its renovation and feel left out of the discussions and negotiations.