Noise-Making Consumer Fireworks Drawing New Complaints

They’re earlier and louder than before, they’re scaring pets, and they’re keeping people up past bedtime

POTTSTOWN PA – The snap, crackle, pop, sizzle, and boom! of fireworks are to be expected at this time of year, only six days before the observance of July 4 (2020; Saturday) as Independence Day. But in places like Pottstown, North Coventry, South Coventry, West Pottsgrove, Lower Pottsgrove, Woxall, and Green Lane, residents have publicly complained for weeks about late-night, noisy, and pet-scaring private fireworks.

“I hear them every night and have for the past month. It’s ridiculous,” a Pottstown resident grumbled Saturday (June 27) on social media. “I’m so fed up with them going off at 10 or 11 PM. I am in bed early because I’m up at 3 AM for work some days,” a sleepy Upper Salford first-shift worker added.

Dozens of similar comments have been posted across local Internet spaces since mid-month. Possibly the only people happy about the situation is fireworks sellers themselves. “Consumer fireworks retailers have reported that sales are off to a record-breaking start” this year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, which represents the industry.

William Weimer, vice president and general counsel of national retailer Phantom Fireworks, acknowledges people seem to be setting off fireworks earlier than usual in past years.

Blame the pandemic for this, too

With wide-spread cancellations of community Independence Day celebrations nationwide, due to pandemic social distancing requirements, “more families than ever” are stocking up on sparklers, cones, fountains, and other fireworks devices to bring their celebrations home, the association said in a June 22 (Monday) media release.

Among public displays canceled locally are those held by the family-owned Wentz Golf Farm in Limerick, where an annual show benefits firefighters. It called off its 2020 presentation, but promises to “be back with a great show next year!” Shows in Norristown, Lower Providence, Glenside, and Conshohocken are no longer scheduled as well.

Not everyone has thrown in the towel. Pottstown’s Go Fourth! committee, for example, postponed its highly popular professional fireworks display to Sept. 6 (Sunday) at Memorial Park on West King Street.

Because of industry safety education efforts and product quality, the rate of fireworks-related injuries is 56 percent lower than in 2000, the association added. It publishes safety-related fireworks information available for download, here. The safety record is another reason it declared “backyard fireworks have never been more popular or more in demand.”

Or, as Slate magazine put it following a headline on a June 17 (Wednesday) story, “Every day is Independence Day this summer.” Within the article it added, “To go by the complaints cities are registering, it appears way more people are spending their free time dabbling with pyrotechnics this year.

A change in PA fireworks laws had an effect too

It’s been less than two years since the Pennsylvania Legislature gutted and replaced its Fireworks Act of 1939. The changes gave consumers age 18 and older the ability to buy and set-off fireworks of specific sizes and types, like firecrackers, Roman Candles, bottle rockets, and others, legally without the need for a permit.

The law also is specific about where and by whom fireworks can be used. They can’t be ignited or discharged on public or private property without permission of the property owner. Lighting fireworks from or within a motor vehicle or building is prohibited. Anyone under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another drug is banned from using fireworks.

But the prohibition most often violated, many area home owners charge, is the portion of the law that states fireworks cannot be used “within 150 feet of an occupied structure, whether or not a person is actually present” in the structure. In many neighborhoods, particularly those in western Montgomery County boroughs, the front doors and backyards of residences may be fewer than 40 feet apart.

Local police departments have pledged to do their best to keep the peace, but even if only minutes elapse between a complainant’s call and a patrol unit’s response the boom might have already gone bust.

Few believe the law will revert, thanks to revenue

Plenty of people on social media argue they want the law to revert to its former status. Apparently, far fewer believe that will happen. The reason: the changes also gave Pennsylvania a slice of the fireworks revenue action.

Under the law the Department of Agriculture now charges license fees for consumer fireworks sales of between $1,000 and $2,500 each, in addition to annual individual facility fees of between $3,000 and $20,000 each depending on the size and permanence of the facility.

Those temporary fireworks sales tents that currently dot the landscape of local shopping centers pay fees at the lower end of the scale. On a good day, though, they may bring in several times those amounts, experts say. The next six days – in the run up to the Fourth – are all prime selling days, they add.

Which may mean some home owners are in for more sleepless nights.

Photo by Nick Smith via Wikimedia, used under the GNU Free Documentation License

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