West York officials say fireworks ordinance wouldn't make a difference

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
West York Borough Office, 1381 W Poplar Street.

Under current state law, there isn't much that West York borough officials can do to penalize people for illegal fireworks displays unless the police catch the perpetrators red-handed, the borough's solicitor said Monday.

Solicitor Margaret Driscoll had looked into whether an update to the borough code would be useful in deterring residents from setting off fireworks, she said.

She said there's already "virtually nowhere" in the borough that a person could meet the safety requirements in the state law for legally setting off fireworks, so a new ordinance would be moot.

"The difficulty here is enforcement," she said during Monday's borough council meeting. "You have to actually catch someone in the act, which is like trying to chase a mouse around the borough."

Council member Wayne Leedy asked if a regular citizen could report someone for using fireworks and whether that would be enforceable.

West York Police Chief Matt Millsaps said yes, private citizens often do report illegal fireworks displays, and that if officers arrive on scene and find evidence of spent fireworks and tubes, they could charge the offender.

More:Fire caused by illegal fireworks displaces 10 in York City

More:'Horrible experiment': York officials rail against fireworks law

West York Borough Police Chief Matt Millsaps talks about speed limit enforcement during at town-hall meeting, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

But callers don't always know exactly where the fireworks are coming from, Millsaps said, and even if police do find the perpetrators, the people who initially called in to report the issue are often reluctant to testify against someone in their neighborhood.

Borough Manager Shawn Mauck said Tuesday the borough hasn't had any major issues lately with fireworks but that it's a common problem around the Fourth of July each year.

In May and June this year, there were an unusual number of illegal fireworks displays in cities across the country. Some national commentators have speculated the fireworks had to do with boredom from the COVID-19 lockdowns or with the widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Mauck said fireworks are of particular concern in densely populated urban municipalities such as West York and York City, which don't allow for the necessary safety clearances between properties.

State law requires that fireworks be launched at least 150 feet away from any occupied structure.

On July 4 in York City, emergency officials responded to 12 different fires caused by fireworks, totaling $170,000 in estimated damage, York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff has said.

Mauck said he'd be happy if the annual Fourth of July fireworks display at the York Fairgrounds started back up.

"That would be a welcome return and may help reduce the homeowner displays on the (Fourth of July) if we had a convenient display to watch," he said.

More:EDITORIAL: During fireworks season, we must obey law, use common sense and show courtesy

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that West York Borough Manager Shawn Mauck did not refer to the COVID-19 lockdowns or George Floyd protests in his remarks about the increased incidence of illegal fireworks in May, June and July.