Lancaster city had more than five times as many fireworks complaints in June 2020 than the year before, and lawmakers representing the city are looking to amend or repeal legislation that made the sale of fireworks to state residents legal in 2017.
Cities nationwide, such as Philadelphia and New York, have also reported a substantial increase in fireworks complaints this year. Lancaster city police received 214 complaints about fireworks in June 2020, as opposed to 38 calls in June 2019, even though most consumer-grade pyrotechnics are not permitted within city limits, police said.
In 2017, the state Legislature expanded the legalization of consumer fireworks to include Pennsylvania residents, which would generate approximately $9.3 million in revenue and some of that money would go toward a special fund for volunteer firefighter training, the House appropriations committee estimated at the time. Previously, only out-of-state residents could purchase consumer fireworks in the state.
“We decided, ‘Gosh, the state’s being really crazy about this. People are responsible. If they can legally set them off in Pennsylvania, they certainly can be trusted to buy them here, and we can get some tax money,’” said Rep. Mike Sturla (D., Lancaster city), who voted in favor of the legislation in 2017. “I think unfortunately, some individuals have proven us wrong. People can’t behave responsibly apparently.”
Both of Lancaster city’s state lawmakers have received complaints about the fireworks.
Sturla is co-sponsoring a measure to repeal that law and another measure to allow a municipality to enact an ordinance to prohibit to limit the use of consumer fireworks. Sen. Scott Martin (R., Martic Township) does not support a full repeal, but supports a “local option for densely populated municipalities,” to ban launching fireworks, he said in an email.
The state Senate has already started to take action to address the firework complaints by amending a Senate bill to allow cities to prohibit fireworks in city limits and increase fines to $500 for a first offense, for which Martin is a co-sponsor. Martin opposed the lengthy tax code bill that included the firework expansion in 2017 for several reasons, including a provision to borrow $1.5 billion from the state’s tobacco settlement agreement, he added.
“It forces the Legislature to then go back and say we’re going to actually legislate you being a responsible citizen,” Sturla said “Then people complain there’s an overreach of government. Then behave.”
Lt. Bill Hickey, the public information officer for Lancaster City Police, encouraged those impacted by increased firework incidents to contact their state lawmakers “and ask them to reconsider the law that was changed that has allowed this to happen,” he said in an email.
City police has only issued one citation for fireworks in 2020. Fireworks complaints are the lowest priority call for police, he added.
LNP | LancasterOnline attempted to reach several other police departments that did not respond by deadline.
Fireworks have been a main topic in several online city discussion groups.
Jessie Stefanescu, 35, of Lancaster city, said she hears fireworks in her neighborhood every night from about 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.
“The fireworks are incessant and loud,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”
Stefanescu said she is especially concerned about her neighbors with post-traumatic stress disorder or those with pets. The loud noises from the fireworks can trigger PTSD in veterans or gun violence survivors, the Inquirer reported. Fireworks can be “terrifying and overwhelming” to pets, according to the Humane Society.
Stefanescu has not called to complain about the fireworks to police, but said she’s tried to find the people setting off the fireworks to speak with them directly.