As Fourth nears, new state fireworks law boosting local sales
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Up and down the aisles of the 4,000 square-foot Spartan Fireworks in Nottingham last Thursday afternoon, the names and packaging of assortments, rockets, parachutes, mortars, shells and repeaters were a colorful reminder that our nation's 234th birthday is just around the corner.
On one aisle, there was a stack of Chicken on a Chain, and on another, Vengeance competed with One Bad Mother-in-Law for prestige, but whatever the name or the product, the passage of a new bill that allows Pennsylvanians to purchase higher-grade fireworks in their state is expected to quickly clear the shelves at fireworks stores throughout Pennsylvania.
House Bill 542, signed into law on Oct. 30, 2017, now gives Pennsylvanians the freedom to purchase and use all two grades of fireworks – novelty and consumer – from suppliers in the state, which eliminates the need to travel to nearby Maryland or even farther away to purchase fireworks.
The new law opens the doors to fireworks enthusiasts in the state, who previously could only take home novelty-grade items like sparklers and fountains. It now permits the sale of Class C consumer-grade fireworks that include firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and other explosives with a maximum of 50 mg of explosive material. Display-level fireworks commonly launched at large events are not permitted for private purchase under the new law.
“Any combustible or explosive composition or any substance or combination of substances which is intended to produce visible or audible effects by combustion, is suitable for use by the public,” the new fireworks law states, providing that the product complies with regulations spelled out by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
“Our numbers for Memorial Day were three times what they were last year,” said Scott Moran, who has co-owned Spartan Fireworks for the past 12 years with his sister, Diane Robertson. “Beginning two weeks before the Fourth of July, it started getting busy. This weekend will be a busy weekend, and what we do then will probably double next week, and what we do next week, we will double it in the days leading to the Fourth of July.”
“Obviously, there is a increased interest in the purchase of fireworks now, as opposed to previous years, because now, Pennsylvania residents are now able to celebrate special occasions in a way they hadn't been able to in years past,” said Kevin Shaub, president of Keystone Fireworks, Pennsylvania's premiere firework store, which opened a new location in Nottingham on June 1. “We see more people shopping around and learning more about these products, and we're happy to be able to cater to our Pennsylvania customers.”
The reason for the passage of the new bill was not just intended to loosen the reigns on fireworks purchases in the state, but to help further plug the hole in state budget gaps, thanks to a 12 percent tax that is being tacked on to fireworks sales, in addition to the state's 6 percent sales tax. It's estimated that the new law could generate more than $9 million in additional revenue, which is expected to be dedicated to a fund to support first responders.
For several years, Mark Walls of Lower Oxford would travel to Maryland and purchase firecrackers and rockets, which he would then shoot off in his back yard on Independence Day. The passage of the House Bill 542 has shortened his annual shopping excursion, he said.
“In Pennsylvania, everyone used to go down to Maryland, and they would bring them back to Pennsylvania, but Maryland used to get all the money,” said Walls, who was purchasing a supply of fireworks at Spartan with his wife, Jacqueline. “So now that the law has changed, the money stays in Pennsylvania, and that's the way it should have been a long time ago.”
While the new law provides Pennsylvanians with greater access to fireworks products, word of its passage has traveled slowly, but consistently. Shaub said that the first indicators he saw of the new law's effect came in advance of New Year's Eve, when in-state shoppers began to visit Keystone's locations in Lancaster, Gettysburg, Matamoras, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre and Greencastle – sales that were quickly followed in February by those looking to celebrate the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl victory.
“We get a lot of people calling every day asking if the rumor is true, and despite the extensive media coverage about the passing of House Bill 542, there remains a lot of Pennsylvanians who still can't believe it, given that the law restricting in-state purchase was so strong, for so long,” Shaub said.
“We're still seeing that many Pennsylvania residents still don't know about the passage of the law, and that many out-of-state residents also don't know the laws in their own state,” said Robertson said, who often refers customers to state laws listed on the American Pyrotechnic Association website.
With the passage of the new law comes regulations regarding consumer safety, and for good reason: Pennsylvanians now have the legal permission to purchase and use up to 50 mg of explosive material in their back yards, and while detailed instructions come on every package, it's a near guarantee that not everyone will read them.
The statistics on fireworks injuries in the U.S. already bear it out: An estimated 7,600 of the total 11,000 fireworks-related injuries in 2016 were treated in hospital emergency departments during the period between June 18, 2016 and July 18, 2016, according to a report on 2016 by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
Between 2001 and 2016, there were 114 fireworks-related deaths, for an average of 7.1 deaths per year, and in 2016, fireworks caused four deaths, with three of the four fatalities related to reloadable aerial devices.
“In relationship to the changes made with the fireworks law, we have serious concerns, strictly from a safety perspective,” said Lydell Nolt, Kennett Township Police Chief. “Personal injury, injuries to third parties including children, fires, and property damage all have be linked to fireworks use over the years. Without a licensed or trained user, we continue to run the risk of these incidents occurring where people get injured due to careless use which increases by easing the restriction on the types of fireworks allowed.”
The new law comes with a series of restrictions for usage, namely that fireworks may not be discharged on a public or private property without the permission of the owner; and that they can not be discharged less than 150 feet from a building, structure, or launched in the direction of motor vehicles or a building. In addition, the law states that persons under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance can not discharge fireworks.
To accompany these laws, Spartan Fireworks goes the extra mile in doubling down on safety precautions. To better protect the user, the company sells rocket and mortar launchers that are staked in the ground, and have a special PVC piping that eliminates them from falling over. They are also constructed in such a way that they allow the user to have plenty of time to get away from the fireworks before they discharge.
“We always suggest that when someone purchases rockets, to purchase safety items as well for their protection,” Robertson said. “We always offer suggestions for safety precautions, especially for people who tell us, 'This is new to me.'”
Keystone Fireworks provides an extensive list of safety tips on its website, and provides printed literature in every shopper's bag as he or she leaves the store, on which are included state laws, and safety tips on how to properly shoot and dispose of fireworks.
“Safety is paramount in our industry, and the safety of our customers is extremely important,” Shaub said. “Like any item that is potentially dangerous, common sense is king. It goes a long way. We not only encourage our customers to use common sense and read the literature we provide, but we ask them be courteous to their neighbors.”
Keystone Fireworks is open year-round, and will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight through July 4 at its new location at 48 Sylmar Road, Nottingham, Pa. 19362. Ph: 610-467-1888. To learn more, visit www.KeystoneFireworks.com.
Spartan Fireworks will be open June 30-July 3 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on July 4 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The supplier is located on 875 E. Christine Road, Nottingham, Pa. Ph: 610-932-7302.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safety Tips from Keystone Fireworks
Fireworks are a great American tradition. They can provide hours of family entertainment, but must be handled by adults with safety in mind. For the safety of both the audience and those lighting the fireworks, we recommend that you observe the following safety measures during your fireworks display.
Children Should Not
NEVER let children handle, play with or light any fireworks. Only responsible adults should handle and light the fireworks.
Do not Use Alcohol
Don’t consume alcohol while lighting fireworks. Fireworks must be used only by individuals who act in a responsible manner and who are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Follow your local and state laws regarding the possession and use of fireworks, and use good common sense when using fireworks.
Read the Label
Read all directions, cautions, labels and warnings on each individual firework to understand the product performance and hazards associated with the use of the item.
Use Fireworks on a
Do not ignite fireworks while holding them. Always light fireworks on a hard, flat level surface to insure the stability of the items. Grass is generally not suitable for any aerial items. If lighting on grass, lay down a flat wooden board for a shooting surface.
Stabilize cakes and tubes using cement blocks or bricks to prevent them from tipping over during use.
Use in a Clear, Open
Keep the audience, especially children, a safe distance away from the shooting site. Always light fireworks in a clear open area away from buildings and vehicles (a minimum of 30 feet for fountains and other ground-based items and 100 yards for any aerial product is recommended). Avoid lighting fireworks in any area where there is dry grass or brush that could catch fire. Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
Keep Clear of the
Never put your head or any part of your body over the top of any firework. Never hold lighted fireworks in your hand. Never look into a tube to check on the performance of the item.
Use Care in Lighting
Always light fireworks products with a punk, flare or an extended butane lighting device, enabling you to keep as far from the product as possible. If needed, use a flashlight at night so the fuse can be seen. Never use a lantern or other flame producing device near fireworks for illumination. Light the firework and get away.
One at a Time
Only light one firework at a time.
Never attempt to re-light, alter or fix any “dud” firework.
Have Water Close
Have an accessible fire extinguisher, water supply, hose or bucket of water nearby for emergencies.
Soak Fireworks After
After using fireworks, soak the spent items thoroughly with water to prevent them from re-igniting. Let them soak overnight. Never bring spent fireworks indoors.
Be cautious of lighting any aerial firework during strong wind conditions. The firework should be lit with the prevailing wind blowing away from the spectators. If there is a significant wind shift during the time you are lighting the firework, the shooting site should be rearranged or the shoot should be postponed until the conditions improve.
Use Care in Handling
Do not carry fireworks in your pocket. Always be careful in handling fireworks to prevent dropping them. Never smoke when handling fireworks.
Never Use Fireworks
Never aim, point or throw fireworks at another person or animal, or at any property or structure.
Always store fireworks in a cool, dry place and dispose of fireworks properly. Do not store fireworks in your home or vehicle.
Only Use Fireworks
Never use fireworks indoors!
Only use fireworks where you have permission from the property owner. Don’t shoot fireworks at unreasonable hours.
From Reliable Dealers
Buy fireworks only from reliable, licensed fireworks dealers. Never make your own fireworks. Never modify an existing fireworks item.
Safety glasses are recommended for those individuals lighting the fireworks and those individuals in close proximity to the fireworks.
Never Take Fireworks
On An Airplane
It is a violation of federal law to carry fireworks on an airplane or transport fireworks in your luggage.
Pennsylvania laws regarding the use of fireworks
You must be 18 or older to buy, possess and use fireworks.
You can only use fireworks where you have permission of the property owner.
You cannot shoot fireworks at vehicles or buildings.
You cannot shoot fireworks at people or animals.
You cannot use fireworks while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
You must be at least 150 feet (50 yards) away from any home or business to set off fireworks.
Using fireworks in violation of the law is a summary offense and subject to a fine of up to $100