Fireworks

Rocket fireworks for sale at at Fantasy Fireworks in Fulton Township in 2016.

THE ISSUE

Lancaster City Council plans to send the county’s state legislators a letter urging them to repeal a 2017 law that significantly loosened Pennsylvania’s fireworks regulations, LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher reported Monday. “The change allowed consumer-grade fireworks, like those allowed in neighboring states, to be sold and set off in the commonwealth,” Stuhldreher explained. “The result, Lancaster city officials say, has been disastrous — so much so that they’re looking to join other cities in seeking to have the law repealed.”

We’re pleased City Council is joining the fight on an issue that so many people, including our letter writers, have been complaining about during the past two summers.

The state’s fireworks expansion is a dud of a law and an ongoing danger to communities.

Tucked inside a revenue package passed in Harrisburg in late 2017 was an expansion of consumer fireworks sales to residents. (This was also the bill that brought us expanded gambling and mini-casinos — it’s the unwanted gift that keeps “giving.”) Pennsylvanians went from only being allowed to legally buy novelty fireworks such as sparklers and smoke bombs to being able to acquire much bigger, louder and more dangerous pyrotechnics.

Legislators are probably pleased by the nearly $8 million in state revenue these fireworks generated during the past fiscal year. (They’re taxed at a 12% rate.)

And fireworks dealers are certainly pleased. Stuhldreher notes that Phantom Fireworks, the largest U.S. fireworks distributor, “expanded its Pennsylvania presence in good faith after the law was changed, opening four more stores, creating jobs and investing millions of dollars.”

But plenty of municipal officials, emergency responders and residents — and their beleaguered pets — are unhappy with the increase in booms, bangs and ear-splitting explosions throughout the summer. (Exacerbating the situation is the fact that some folks don’t limit their fuse-setting to the Fourth of July.)

Here are excerpts from recent letters to LNP on this topic:

— “I enjoy fireworks displays as much as the next guy, but having them detonated in residential areas nightly for a week or more is too much,” wrote Lance Smith of West Hempfield Township.

— “Stop firing them off in congested neighborhoods, two and three weeks after the Fourth of July holiday. Our dogs, cats and humans are sick and tired of the noise, etc.,” wrote East Cocalico Township’s Deb DeWees.

— “This year on July 27 ... there was a solid 15 minutes’ fireworks display louder than last year, thanks to our thoughtful legislators. ... Somehow, legislators can’t resolve one of our most pressing issues, property taxes, but they can unleash World War III on our quiet rural neighborhoods,” wrote Randy B. Maurer of Ephrata.

We agree with all of them.

Some are pinning their blame and frustration on municipalities, claiming local ordinances regarding when and where fireworks can be detonated aren’t being enforced.

But the problem is that there are too many fireworks and not enough members of law enforcement to monitor their use. And, of course, nobody believes that dealing with endless calls about potential violations of fireworks ordinances is a good use of finite law enforcement resources.

As Stuhldreher notes, “The state law sets a minimum age of 18 and prohibits fireworks use near buildings, and Lancaster passed and publicized an ordinance last year that effectively barred lighting fireworks anywhere in the city. But enforcement has proved difficult to impossible.”

There have already been fireworks-related tragedies in other parts of the state. In Luzerne County, an 11-year-old boy died in a July fire that police suspect was caused by fireworks. In Reading, a July 4 blaze left two families homeless, and another incident damaged an elementary school.

It’s only a matter of time, we fear, until more tragedies strike. Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace noted that it’s only due to luck that the city, with its dense neighborhoods, wooden porches and rubber roofs, has avoided a major incident thus far.

And so the best course of action to make Pennsylvania’s cities and neighborhoods safer seems to be a Harrisburg repeal of the 2017 fireworks expansion.

It would cost the state’s coffers some money.

It would hurt the bottom line of fireworks dealers.

But it’s the right and necessary move.

Stuhldreher reported that, even though up to $2 million of the tax revenue generated by fireworks is allocated to help fire and emergency services departments, Lancaster police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser is on board with repealing the law. He doesn’t want a law that is “sacrificing public safety for tax dollars.”

We agree.

At the moment, it may be an uphill battle to repeal the fireworks expansion, because lawmakers seem addicted to unwise revenue sources. But as more cities and communities make their pleas to Harrisburg, a groundswell of public opinion could make a difference.

We encourage readers to urge lawmakers to repeal the 2017 law. Reduce the number of consumer-grade fireworks to which people have access. Leave the big displays to the professionals, and make our neighborhoods and backyards quieter and safer during the summertime.