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City ordinance make private firework use ‘nearly impossible’

It’s nearly impossible to legally use consumer fireworks in Williamsport city limits.

Restrictive language in city fireworks ordinance and state law make it so, but the state also allowed a loophole in 2017 permitting the purchase of more powerful gunpowder and aerial kits.

It’s presented a dilemma for police and firefighters.

“Because of the densely populated urban areas it makes this nearly impossible to do in the city without being in violation of the law,” said Mark Killian, city fire chief, in a recent discussion on fireworks use and damage tolls with the city public safety committee.

Ahead of the July 4 holiday, Killian and city police are trying to tamp down what last year was described by a city councilwoman as a “war zone.”

“The state consumer fireworks law signed in 2017 has been a public safety catastrophe for urban environments across the state,” Killian said.

Killian, who sits on the executive board of the Career Fire Chiefs Association, said the association has been actively lobbying for repeal of this state law since it was enacted.

For cities such as Williamsport it is an extremely difficult situation firefighters have been put in, he said.

“They are legal to purchase but because of the city code nearly impossible to set off anywhere in the city without breaking the law,” he said.

“You have to be 150 feet away from an occupied structure, which is very difficult to find in the city,” he said.

“They can’t be discharged on public or private property without expressed permission of the property owner,” he said.

“If you live in a rental property, unless you have written permission from the landlord, you are not permitted to set off fireworks,” Killian said. “It can’t be done on sidewalks or in the streets or on city property,” he said.

Aside from the law, from a public safety standpoint, aerial fireworks that are shot off can and do cause structure fires.

“We have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage directly attributed to fireworks since 2017 and in fires throughout the city,” Killian said.

“I understand the rights of our citizens under the law, but when these aerial fireworks are launched they are not staying on your property, they are traveling over your neighbor’s home.”

“We live in a densely populated urban city with old building construction,” he said. “These things land on roofs, in gutters, and they cause fires.”

As of 2017, the General Assembly passed a law on the use of consumer fireworks, said Jason Bolt, assistant police chief.

In that law, it allows for the use of fireworks previously not able to be used in Pennsylvania, he said.

“We can’t have any of the large M-80s, M-100s, Blockbusters, cherry bombs, quarter sticks or those other types of explosive that cause damage and are a danger,” Bolt said.

“It does allow for sparklers,” he said. “It does allow for some commonly know things such as bottle rockets.”

There are provisions in the city ordinance such as not allowing them to be used within 150 feet of an occupied structures, not under the influence of alcohol and not to be used by persons under the age of 18, according to the state law.

In city fireworks’ code which fairly mimics the state law, consumer fireworks shall be approved for use the weekend before July 4 and permitted for use throughout the following weekend. Times approved are between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

“We have historically seen usage outside of our code,” Bolt said.

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