Fireworks: What you need to know this Fourth of July

CLEARFIELD – Exploding sales in the fireworks industry and the proliferation of types of pyrotechnics spawned a revision of Pennsylvania’s Depression-era law governing the holiday noisemakers in 2004 that officials hope will mean safer celebrations.

Joyce Knepp, owner and president of Winburne-based Kneppy’s Fireworks, explained the original law, written in 1939, was vague and open to broad  interpretation.

“The law stated fireworks legal in Pennsylvania were sparklers, which was never defined, and snapper caps. It worked because in those days there were just a few kinds of fireworks available. Now there are hundreds, thousands, so the 2004 amendment redefined the law in 21st century terms,” she said.

The revised law also describes the roles of regulatory agencies — most of which didn’t exist in 1939 — including the department of transportation, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

It reworded the definition of what’s legal in the commonwealth and set licensing fees of $5,000 annually for sellers. This is the second-highest license cost in Pennsylvania; only the gaming industry pays more, she said.

According to the amendment, legal fireworks include sparklers, hand-held sparklers, ground-based sparklers, toy novelties, caps and snaps.

It is illegal to sell, buy or set off aerial fireworks, such as rockets, or those that make a report or “bang.”

“Beyond the legal ones are professional fireworks, and there’s a reason they’re called that. You better know what you’re doing with them,” Knepp said.

More elaborate pyrotechnics can be purchased legally in Pennsylvania if the buyer secures a municipal permit and follows state and local guidelines but, “It’s easier and safer to enjoy one of the many professional shows in the area,” she noted.

While the law also requires professional pyrotechnicians to be licensed to buy fireworks, it doesn’t mandate training but Knepp said most companies insist on certification for their employees.

Despite revisions to the law and education efforts, celebrating with fireworks can be dangerous. Knepp and the National Council on Fireworks Safety offer this advice:

     – buy only from a reputable, established dealer
     – read and follow label directions
     – never hold fireworks in your hand, even if the label says you can
     – use only outdoors and with close adult supervision
     – light only one at a time then move quickly away
     – never re-light duds. Wait 15-20 minutes then soak in water
     – keep a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water handy
     – wear eye protection if you’re the shooter
     – keep people and pets clear of the shooting area.

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