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Local fireworks sales expected to go sky high

Change to law prohibits sales of some products at temporary sites

Maxson DeStefano, 7, (left) and Cassius DeStefano, 10, both of Altoona search for smoke bombs Tuesday evening at a Keystone Fireworks Tent at Kettle Drive and Pleasant Valley Boulevard. Photo for the Mirror by Isaac Ritchey

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, $945 million was spent on consumer fireworks last year, with an additional $360 billion spent on display fireworks.

However, another change has been made to fireworks laws in Pennsyl­vania.

Act 43 of 2017 had allowed for sales of consumer fireworks from temporary locations, but the Commonwealth Court ruled in December that those provisions were unconstitutional.

Sales from temporary locations were only legal for one season. Much of the increased sales volume would have been a one-year bump, said spokeswoman Shannon Powers of the state Department of Agriculture, which licenses fireworks sellers.

“The temporary locations can no longer sell the Class C or consumer-grade fireworks such as firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets that contain a maximum of 50 mg of explosive materials. It only removed these from temporary locations; they can still be purchased at brick and mortar locations,” Powers said.

Act 43 had allowed Penn­syl­vania residents 18 or older to purchase the consumer fireworks that previously were only available to out-of-state residents.

The 2017 law’s 12 percent tax remains in place.

Powers said legislation is “in the works” to possibly restore the sale of some of the consumer fireworks items.

Act 43 did lead to a bump in sales for some fireworks dealers.

“Last year’s new law had a big impact on our sales. In our tents, we probably did twice as much business. But the law has changed again,” said Joyce Knepp, owner of Kylertown-based Kneppy’s Fireworks. “What this means is that last year, the goodies we were able to sell, we will no longer have them.”

Knepp said her business continues to have three sales tents, but doesn’t have one in Altoona this year — because her former location was not available.

Julie Heckman, APA executive director, agreed that Act 43 did help sales in Pennsylvania.

“There had been restrictions on what Pennsylvania residents could purchase. Out-of-state residents could purchase those items. The law leveled the playing field of what Pennsylvania residents could purchase,” Heckman said.

Having the holiday fall on a Thursday should be good for sales.

“We expect sales to be better. Last year, it was on a Wednesday. For the Fourth of July traditionally, when it falls in the middle of the week, is the worst day for fireworks sales and use,” said William A. Weimer, vice president and general counsel for Phantom Fireworks Cos. of Youngstown, Ohio. “This year it is on Thursday which leads into the weekend and a lot of people will be off on Friday. We expect sales to be stronger this year. A lot of people in my industry didn’t have great sales last year.”

Heckman agrees.

“With the Fourth of July on a Thursday, that is really good for the industry. Many people will have Friday off. As long as Mother Nature cooperates, it will be a great weekend of fireworks celebrations,” 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 are the quintessential way to celebrate the Fourth of July,” Weimer said.

Consumer fireworks sales are allowed in all states but one.

“Massachusetts is the last state standing. I am sure John Adams would not be happy with that,” Heckman said.

Popular items continue to be large fountains, aerial repeaters and reloadable shell kits and novelty items and sparklers for younger people.

Fireworks continue to be safer — injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used has dropped dramatically from 38.3 in 1976 to 3.2 in 2018.

“This has been a trend for the past 10 to 15 years for various reasons, a result of many factors including better labeling, more discipline in the manufacturing pro­cesses, more discipline in testing of what is manufactured,” said Jack May, owner of Lancaster-based Keystone Fireworks.

“We are very proud of the industry’s safety record when it comes to use of backyard fireworks. The drop in injuries coincides with the relaxation of consumer fireworks laws. What we have seen as a trend is when consumer fireworks are allowed to be sold, it seems the public is more safe and people take more time to plan their fireworks activities,” Heckman said. “Fireworks injuries have declined dramatically due to industry safety education efforts and the ever improving quality of its products.”

The best advice to those setting off their own fireworks displays is to use common sense.

“Be a decent distance away from crowds and buildings. With aerial items, 150 feet away is state law. If using fountains, 50 feet is a reasonable distance to be on the safe side. Have a bucket of water or a hose to extinguish fireworks if they catch on fire,” Knepp said.

“The biggest thing is to use common sense. The other primary rules fall under common sense, such as keep a safe distance away, make sure you have water available and don’t let kids touch the fireworks,” Weimer said.

Phantom Fireworks — which primarily operates brick and mortar locations — goes the extra step to stress safety.

“When you leave the showroom, your receipt is stapled to a safety brochure. We try and sell the safety message. There are no good fireworks if it is not a safe even,” Weimer said. “I want you to be safe and that no one gets hurt and you remain a fireworks enthusiast. If you get hurt, you are not going to come back to our business.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

Fireworks displays

Sunday

Lakemont — After Curve game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Wednesday

Martinsburg — 10 p.m. at Morrisons Cove Memorial Park.

Thursday, July 4

Lakemont — 10 p.m. at Lakemont Park.

Lakemont — after Curve game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

State College — 9:15 p.m. at Beaver Stadium.

Tipton — 10:30 p.m. Summer Thunder at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park. Preshow at 10 p.m.

Saturday

Martinsburg — 10 p.m., Morrisons Cove Memorial Park.

Patton — 9:30 p.m. Will be set off on the levee along Chest Creek.

Blue Knob — 9:30 p.m. Thunder On The Knob at Blue Knob All Seasons Summit Lodge. Events start at 5.

Lakemont — After Curve game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

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