With Independence Day looming on the horizon, area residents are stocking up for backyard celebrations. Private caches of hot dogs, hamburgers and lemonade are slowly forming, while the thrill-seeking youth (and young at heart) dream of summer skies illuminated by violent bursts of color.
Fireworks are a holiday staple, but Pennsylvania law prevents everything but "safe and sane" consumer products from being used. For many, this is a major disappointment, but there is a solution.
If you have an extra $500 lying around, that is.
That's how much a launch permit from the state will set you back. With that document in hand, those thirsting for destruction can blow up rockets and firecrackers to their heart's content for one wild night.
"Without a permit, state residents can only buy sparklers and novelty items," Officer John Lowson, of the Pennsylvania State Police's Fire Marshal division, said. "Nothing can fly off the ground or explode."
According to Officer Lowson, residents wishing to purchase explosive consumer fireworks from accredited stores, such as Phantom Fireworks, must apply for a permit through their local municipality. Under Chapter 13A of the state's Health and Safety code, these permits must cost no less than $500 and are valid only for the time of the display specified by the applicant. Extensions for inclement weather are available.
Additionally, a local fire chief must first assess the proposed site of the fireworks' launching. If the inspector deems the area fit, only then can the applicant purchase and use explosive fireworks.
"No one can simply walk up and ask the fire chief to light their M-80s." Lehighton Borough Police Officer Matthew Arner said. "The permits are issued to keep people safe. Without one, those shooting illegal fireworks will receive a citation and a fine up to $500."
Of course, it's a much different situation for out-of-state consumers.
"There is nothing in Pennsylvania law that can stop out-of-staters from buying and transporting explosive fireworks, even if they are illegal in their home state," Lowson said. "It's the policemen in their own state who should be stopping them."
Chapter 13A allows non-Pennsylvania residents to purchase explosive fireworks, as long as they agree to take them immediately out of state. Most retailers selling such items often require multiple forms of identification from out-of-state customers, in an attempt to deter any mediated purchases for Pennsylvanians.
"It's a catch-22 situation," Herb Truhe, a professional fireworks technician for International Fireworks, said. "They're legally transporting over state lines something they can't legally use in their home states."
Truhe asserts that if revelers were more conscious of the danger associated with fireworks, the current laws wouldn't be in place.
"Carelessness, that's the bottom line," he said. "Fireworks are man-made. They can cause a lot of harm. If people used fireworks realistically, then the laws wouldn't be so strict."
These stringent regulations, Truhe claims, often accomplish the opposite of their intended function.
"People cut corners, which makes the whole situation even more dangerous," he said.
Residents who buy and use explosive fireworks illegally create a threat for not only themselves, but also the people living around them. Besides the myriad physical injuries that such products can cause, launching fireworks in areas unapproved by fire marshals can cause property damage and start brush fires.
"The education about fireworks is just not there," Truhe said. "If more people were made aware about how to properly use fireworks, I think the laws could be eased up."
Truhe, himself a former law enforcement officer, believes that those policing the area should also be better educated, as misconceptions abound about the danger of fireworks.
"All the injuries resulting from fireworks are the result of carelessness," he said. "When properly used, fireworks are great, and using them is part of our country's heritage."