New fireworks law sparks twice as many complaints in York County

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Independence Day fireworks celebration at Springettsbury Park, Sunday, July 1, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

The first Fourth of July celebration since state lawmakers expanded the list of fireworks that can be bought and used in Pennsylvania resulted in twice as many complaints as last year and led to at least one fire in York County.

Since the law changed in October, Pennsylvanians are now able buy fireworks that contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive materials, items that previously were available for purchase only by out-of-state residents.

However, the new law came with its fair share of restrictions.

For instance, it's illegal to set off fireworks on any property without permission of the owner, use fireworks while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or set off fireworks within 150 feet of any occupied structure.

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New law overlooked: Some York County residents overlooked the new rules and kept police and dispatchers busy on the Fourth and in the days leading up to the holiday.

From Sunday, July 1, to Thursday, July 5, the York County 911 Center received 331 calls complaining about fireworks, county spokesman Mark Walters said.

The number was nearly double the amount of calls during the same time frame last year, when only 182 complaints were received, he added.

Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said his department had 31 calls and gave out five citations on July 4 alone.

"The new law absolutely played a role," he said. " And all of the violations were due to people setting off fireworks within 150 feet of another house."

Bentzel added that the department advertised the new firework laws all week, but it "didn't work well."

"We made attempts to educate people, but clearly it didn't work well," he said. "Our hope was that we would avoid this."

York City also had its fair share of issues.

City spokesman Philip Given said York City Police officers were "obviously overwhelmed" by the influx of calls.

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert couldn't be reached for comment and statistics, but Given himself received his fair share of complaints.

"My inbox and voicemail have been full not only with tips, but also with complaints about fireworks," he said. "I think that there was a continued misunderstanding that just because it's legal to purchase the fireworks, it's legal to set them off — which isn't what the law says."

Still, Given said he believes the majority of individuals just wanted to have fun and celebrate with friends and family.

"I don't think that any resident intended to ruin the night of their neighbors, but I do hope that over the next year conversations happen," he said. "But at this point I don't know what will happen."

Fires: At least one house fire was attributed to fireworks.

On Tuesday, July 3, a York Township man and a neighbor used a garden hose to extinguish a fire on his front porch and in his shrubs.

Fire officials confirmed fireworks started the fire.

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