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City rehashes ordinance amid complaints

July 4 is around the bend, but the early fireworks celebrations are driving some people in Williamsport to complain to City Council.

“They appear to be starting earlier this year,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, chair of the public safety committee, following a discussion with city police Chief Damon Hagan during a recent committee meeting.

“Chief, we are hearing a lot of complaints,” Katz said.

“We respond to every call as part of the city ordinance and state law,” Hagan said. A charge up to disorderly conduct can be filed, he said.

“We take appropriate action,” Hagan said.

City police records indicated there were six reported investigations so far this month.

Those records may be lagging from unfiled incidents and could be categorized as non-fireworks activities such as noise disturbance, officials said.

The bangs and booms are more powerful forms of fireworks, many of which are filled with more gunpowder and explosives that are allowable under a state statute adopted two years ago, according to Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator.

The city ordinance requires their discharge for personal use seven days before July 4 and seven days after, he said.

The ordinance states they must be discharged 150 feet from a structure in the city, he said.

The city ordinance was approved by council in 2019, after it was revised and amended with help from the city Bureau of Fire officials.

Numerous complaints are being registered from residents fed up and there are indications on social media that it can be triggering post-traumatic stress among those who served in military or combat, disturbing the sleep patterns of people who must get up early for work and frightening family pets.

State residents can buy what are deemed “consumer fireworks,” or firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material.

Sparklers, caps and other novelties have been acceptable before permissions were expanded in 2017.

Professional-grade “display fireworks” are off-limits.

Also, federal rules outlaw explosives that don’t adhere to safety standards. Devices such as M-80s, M-100s, quarter sticks and cherry bombs are considered illegal by most law enforcement agencies and are banned in many states, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Hagan said the police are responding to the complaints.

Katz urged the city information technology coordinator to put the city ordinance on the city website.

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