HARRISBURG — Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney told lawmakers Tuesday that widespread use of pyrotechnics made some parts of the state seem like “a war zone” last Fourth of July.
Delaney was part of a group of local officials who told the House agriculture and rural affairs committee that the 2017 law allowing consumers to buy fireworks should be repealed or changed.
The additional work created by the spasm of fireworks use comes as the state’s fire service is already strained because it relies heavily on volunteer-run agencies that struggle to muster enough people to respond when needed, said Jerry Ozog, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, a Harrisburg-based research and lobbying group for first responders.
Delaney said fire department officials opposed the idea of legalizing fireworks before the 2017 law was approved by the General Assembly. Now that it’s in place, they want lawmakers to consider repealing the law or revamping.
Among the ideas suggested by the fire officials were:
• Increasing the penalty for misuse of fireworks from $100 to $1,000.
• Increasing the distance to buildings from which fireworks can legally be used from 150 feet to 500 feet.
• Making it clearer that local municipalities have the right to regulate fireworks use.
• Improved data-tracking of the number of fires or other emergencies linked to fireworks use.
Delaney said fire officials now have access to no firm data on the number of emergencies caused by fireworks use.
Anecdotally, fire officials and local police have noticed a dramatic increase in complaints from residents, he said.
Delaney said that in the City of Reading, there were 92 calls complaining about fireworks and eight fires linked to pyrotechnics on the Fourth of July. He said that in Wilkes-Barre, he was told by police officials that there were so many fireworks complaints that police couldn’t respond to them all.
State Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry County, said that the reports from the fire officials didn’t make it clear whether there has been widespread misuse of fireworks or if there have just been complaints from citizens who aren’t accustomed to having fireworks shot off in their neighborhood.
The fire officials were at a hearing at the Capitol focusing on House Bill 1687, which would provide new guidance to local governments about how they can regulate fireworks use, set times of the day for fireworks use, and increase the penalties for misuse of fireworks. House Bill 1687 would bar the use of fireworks after 10 p.m., except on July 2-4, and New Year’s Eve, when fireworks could still be set off until 1 a.m. The legislation would keep the fine for a first offense of misuse of fireworks at $100, but adds a $500 fine a for a second offense.
State Rep. Martin Causer, R-McKean County, the chairman of the agriculture and rural affairs committee, said that the state needed “to modernize” the fireworks law when it passed the 2017 legislation. Lawmakers still need to determine whether there’s enough support to try to change the fireworks law again, he said.