Festivities on July Fourth and the days leading up to the holiday are supposed to serve as a strong reminder of what unites us as Americans
That’s especially important in an era when political division is so strong.
But one of the biggest issues that divides people this time of year has nothing to do with hot-button political issues. It’s the ongoing disagreement between those who enjoy setting off their own fireworks as part of their seasonal celebration, and those who object to the noise and danger associated with amateur pyrotechnics.
The issue of noise complaints related to fireworks use isn’t new, but the situation has been much worse since Pennsylvania enacted legislation that legalized more potent fireworks in 2017. The broad availability of noisier fireworks that can go airborne led to an explosion of grievances.
First responders noted an increase in fires and fire-related deaths due to the expanded use of these devices. Though the law prohibits lighting fireworks near buildings, that rule is widely ignored. Especially at the height of the fireworks season around the Fourth of July, police are spread thin trying to respond to all the complaints from neighbors who consider extreme late-night noise nothing to celebrate.
Lawmakers were slow to react to these concerns. The fireworks law raises revenue via a tax on purchases of the legalized pyrotechnics, and politicians are reluctant to give up a source of funding that isn’t a broad-based tax. And many legislators in the least populated parts of the state don’t seem to understand how big a problem this is in cities and suburbs, most of which don’t have any places where it’s safe to shoot fireworks and where people live in close proximity and can’t avoid hearing the noise.
The years of complaints did finally lead to some action. A law that took effect in September gives municipalities more power to regulate the use of pyrotechnics. It also bars sale of fireworks from tents and roadside stands.
Municipalities may restrict use of consumer fireworks between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. except on July 2, 3, 4 and Dec. 31 when they may be used until 1 a.m. If July 4 falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, fireworks may be used until 1 a.m. on the immediately preceding and following Friday and Saturday.
Will this make much of a difference? We’ll see. We’re on record as preferring a much stricter law with restrictions similar to what had been in effect prior to the 2017 change in the rules.
Some attempt at improvement is better than none, but as long as stronger fireworks are readily available in Pennsylvania, there are limits on how much police and other local officials can do to combat the problem.It’s going to be up to the people who choose to celebrate with fireworks to do so with safety and consideration for their neighbors in mind.
Remember that for many people this activity is more than just a nuisance. The noise generated by fireworks poses problems for families with young children, many older people and veterans dealing with anxiety, not to mention individuals who have to work the next morning. And this time of year can be a nightmare for households with dogs.
If you must shoot off fireworks, limit the activity to the first hour or so after nightfall, then switch to quieter activities.And follow the rules to reduce the risk of causing injury or property damage. The law prohibits lighting fireworks within 150 feet of a structure or on public property without permission. Don’t allow children to use fireworks, and don’t light pyrotechnics while intoxicated.
If fireworks fans don’t want to see tougher regulations in the future, it’s in their interest to be on their best behavior now. If communities continue to feel like war zones in the summer, we’re certain that police and fire chiefs, mayors and angry people all over the state will renew their demands for a tougher approach. We’ll be behind them all the way. We only hope it doesn’t take a real tragedy for people to realize how serious this issue really is.