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2017 fireworks reform increased injuries, fires and complaints

Local officials urge civilians to leave display fireworks to the professionals as injuries and residential fires continue to threaten the greater Williamsport area.

In 2017, Act 43 reformed sales on fireworks in Pennsylvania, leading to the expansion of public sales on fireworks with more explosive power, such as bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers.

This has affected local municipal government officials as the availability of such fireworks has caused an influx of injuries, fires and countless complaints.

“That’s when we started getting complaints, within the last couple of years,” said Bill Burdett, Loyalsock Township manager.

“They are not permitted in the parks or public streets. …We hear of people doing that. We don’t want that in our streets or in our parks.”

The conditions incorporated for display fireworks disclose that such fireworks may not be set off within 150 feet of a structure. With public spaces off limits, civilians are very limited to authorized spaces in which they can securely set off the explosives.

“Based on the conditions outlined, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to find a place in the city where you can legally use them.” Explained Williamsport Bureau of Fire’s fire chief, Mark Killian.

In the last few years, there have been multiple house fires within the Williamsport area as a result of consumer fireworks.

“These things launch into the air and they’re on fire. …Pennsylvania is full of old cities — Old, densely populated neighborhoods. Just Williamsport itself for the last several years, we had multiple fires associated with a neighbor down the block launching a firework that goes into the siding of a house, several houses away.” Said Killian.

“The challenge is yes, it is your right by law to use these. But it still has an impact on your neighbors, because these things are not staying on your property. That’s why that 150 ft is there. That is flaming debris.”

Serious injuries have also increased since Act 43 released consumer-grade fireworks to the public. In the past year there has been a notable increase in injuries. According to a study by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in the year of 2020, around 15,600 people nationwide were hospitalized for firework related injuries. This is an increase of around 5,600 hospitalizations from the year prior. This could also be partially due to COVID-19 restrictions, as a decrease in firework shows compelled individuals to purchase their own display fireworks.

In addition, the study showed that firecrackers were the main source of emergency room treated firework injuries in 2020.

Firecrackers with more explosive power were one kind of firework that became available with Act 43.

Because the changes in firework sale distribution was part of a tax code reform, municipalities are unable to regulate the consumer fireworks with municipal ordinance. Many local officials continue to push to repeal act 43. This would restrict any further sales of display fireworks.

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