'People ... are suffering': 2017 fireworks law causes headaches, complaints and fires, but there's no hurry to repeal it
The sound of fireworks can already be heard throughout York County, leaving municipalities bracing for another rowdy, potentially dangerous Fourth of July weekend.
The use of fireworks, which are illegal in many areas — particularly in York City — has for years caused a slew of noise complaints, not to mention fires and property damage. Some local officials say they expect this year will bring the same results.
“People, particularly in urban communities, are suffering from this by destroyed property and horribly impacted quality of life,” York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said, adding that the explosions also trigger those with trauma.
As in previous years, the city will have extra patrols of police and firefighters out to cite residents setting off illegal fireworks.
Officials say fireworks-related complaints exploded after Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation in 2017 that permitted the purchase and use of fireworks that could contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive materials, with some restrictions.
Those restrictions include any fireworks used within 150 feet of any occupied structure, meaning they're essentially not legal in any part of the city.
But Helfrich said the issue is that residents simply ignore the restrictions and now have access to more powerful fireworks, which leaves it up to state lawmakers to intervene.
West Manchester Township Fire Chief Clifton Laughman echoed Helfrich's concerns, noting that the township had three or four fires last year.
“There’s not many places in West Manchester where you meet that 150-feet rule,” Laughman said. “We had problems last year, and we’re ramping up our police department patrol over the July 4 weekend to combat that.”
Wolf has given no indication he would support amending or repealing the law. Instead, his administration said he supports local control and that municipalities can crack down harder if they wish.
"The current law doesn’t prohibit municipalities from further regulating the use of consumer fireworks, and many municipalities have done so," said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger.
Wolf last year also said he doesn't believe the law has in any way impacted how residents act over the Fourth of July weekend.
However, lawmakers of both parties support amending or repealing the law entirely.
“There is huge interest in reversing that law at the legislative level,” said state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City. “But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest at the administrative level.”
Hill-Evans said that it is her understanding the governor doesn't support reversing the legislation because of the revenue that it brings in, although she argued the costs of damages aren't worth it.
The 12% tax imposed on fireworks sales were projected to raise $7.4 million in fiscal year 2019-20.
State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, did not respond to requests for comment, but last year she said she supported amending the legislation to increase penalties for illegal fireworks users to deter them. In the past, legislation to do so has failed to clear both chambers.
"These fireworks are dangerous," Phillips-Hill said at the time.
On July 4 alone in York City last year, emergency officials responded to 12 different fires caused by fireworks. The fires caused an estimated $170,000 in damage.
Between July 1 and July 5 of last year, York County 911 received 653 fireworks-related calls, including 527 noise complaints, according to officials.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.