Fireworks business booming

Sales expected to hit new high

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec George Knepp restocks his supply of fireworks for sale at Kneppy’s Fireworks tent along Pleasant Valley Boulevard. Recent changes to the state fireworks laws allow more Pennsylvania consumers to legally purchase and use fireworks.

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, the sale of consumer fireworks in the United States is again expected to reach a record number.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, $885 million was spent on consumer fireworks last year, with an additional $353 million spent on display fireworks.

“We anticipate that consumption figures will continue to rise and surpass the 2017 all-time highs. Recent changes to the state fireworks laws in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware will allow more consumers to legally purchase and use consumer fireworks,” said Julie Heckman, APA executive director.

“As far as consumer fireworks, I expect them to nearly double in sales because of the new fireworks law in Pennsylvania. That is my personal opinion,” said Joyce Knepp, owner of Winburne-based Kneppy’s Fireworks.

Kneppy’s, Keystone Fireworks, Phantom Fireworks and TNT Fireworks are among those selling fireworks in the Altoona area.

The Pennsylvania fireworks law officially changed Oct. 30. Pennsylvania residents 18 or older can now purchase and use “Class C” or “consumer-grade” fireworks that include firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material.

The expansion includes those fireworks that previously were only available to out-of-state residents.

In the past, consumer fireworks also required municipal permits, and Pennsylvania residents who didn’t have those could legally buy and use only the smaller stuff classified as “novelty.”

But the new law drops the permit requirement for both buying and using consumer fireworks. Now, they can be set off on any private property as long as the property owner gives permission and the fireworks are at least 150 feet from an occupied structure.

The new law also institutes a 12 percent tax on consumer fireworks. According to The Asso­cia­ted Press, the state estimates that and new licensing fees for fireworks sellers will raise $2.6 million this fiscal year and $9.3 million next fiscal year.

Leveling the field

The law should be good for Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania leveled the playing field for its residents by allowing residents to purchase all consumer fireworks federally regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, rather than making those products only available to non-residents. We believe this will increase sales in the commonwealth and capture additional tax revenues that were most likely going to neighboring states,” Heckman said.

William A. Weimer, vice president and general counsel for Phantom Fireworks Cos. of Youngstown, Ohio, said the new law will help sales, but he is not completely happy with how it came about.

“We would have preferred to have hearings. It did not have any input from the fireworks industry. They were blinded by the 12 percent tax. I’ve seen some people from Erie drive to Youngstown to avoid the tax. We would be happy if it was done right,” Weimer said.

Traditionally, Wednesday has been the worst day of the week for the holiday to fall on in regard to sales.

“Typically in our industry that is the weakest of all days. We are hoping for good weather and good sales the previous weekend, we are cautiously optimistic it will be a good year,” said Jack May, owner of Lancaster-based Keystone Fireworks.

“Typically, when Independence Day falls on a midweek day, sales slightly decline. Although, in actuality, the financial success of the holiday has more to do with Mother Nature than which day of the week Independence Day falls,” Heckman said.

Fireworks are an American tradition.

Future President John Adams wrote on July 3, 1776, in one of his famous letters to his wife, Abigail, and expressed that Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore,” Weimer said. “President Adams’ prophetic thoughts have come true today as Americans celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and barbecues.”

“Fireworks bring families and communities together. They provide wholesome, affordable family fun,” Heckman said.

With changes in Pennsylvania’s law, the most popular items may change.

“With the change in the law ground items, fountains and novelties may not be as popular. I am noticing a changeover to bottle rockets, Roman candles, things that people were not allowed to buy before,” Knepp said.

“Things that go up in the air and make beautiful colors and make noise are popular,” Weimer said.

Age factor in choices

The age of the consumer plays a role in popularity.

“Sparklers and novelty devices such as snaps are big hits for the youngsters, but close parental supervision is a must, especially with sparklers. Grown-ups prefer the multi-tube cake devices, which range in size from 9 shot to 100 shot finale boxes and reloadable aerial shell devices where you load the shell into the mortar tube — making one feel like an amateur pyrotechnician,” Heckman said.

Although injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used dropped dramatically from 38.3 in 1976 to 4.14 in 2016, the number was up slightly last year to 5.0 — the estimated number of fireworks-related injuries for 2017 was 12,800 up from 11,100 in 2016.

“We are waiting to see the detailed report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which will break down the types of injuries that occurred and whether the injuries were related to product misuse, illegal explosives (M80s, cherry bombs) and/or professional product not intended to be used by the general public. We do not believe the increase in injuries is statistically significant, however, it does demonstrate the need for more fireworks safety education,” Heckman said.

“When we have injuries, it is because people misuse them or use types that are not allowed by the law,” Knepp said.

Despite the numbers, consumer fireworks are safer than ever before, Heckman said.

“The fireworks industry adheres to strict manufacturing requirements including third-party testing and certification before offering the products for sale,” Heckman said.

“The industry has taken several steps to ensure safety and that starts with the construction of the products. They are inspected overseas to make sure the manufacturer meets U.S. standards; it doesn’t leave the port until they pass inspection,” May said.

Dealers say it is best to buy from a reputable seller.

“Retail fireworks stores, stands and tents are required to be licensed and have permits. Ask the fireworks clerk questions about any products you intend to purchase that you may not be familiar with so you understand how the device will perform. Read labels carefully and follow the instructions for use,” Heckman said.

“Shop at a reputable stand; be knowledgeable. I’ve heard people say they don’t know how to use them,” Knepp said. “I will sit down with them and explain how to use them.”

And the best advice for those setting off fireworks — use common sense.

“Children should not be setting off fireworks; adult supervision is important. Only the person lighting the unit should be near the unit,” May said.

“There is no good show unless it is a safe one. You need a designated shooter and keep kids away,” Weimer said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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