This 4th of July, be smart and safe when you set off fireworks | Opinion

President Trump plans to address the nation from the Lincoln Memorial on July 4. A fireworks display will follow. (WikiMedia Commons photo, via MarylandMatters.com)

By Jeanne McNeill

As the July Fourth holiday draws closer, so too do the calls and complaints to my office about fireworks activity.

This year, it seems as though the annual tradition in communities here in Lehigh County and across the Commonwealth has reached a heightened level of activity.

Perhaps one might say people are especially keen on releasing extra stress brought out by the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine that halted get-togethers.

Regardless of reasoning, the displays are unauthorized and, as noted by the calls and conversations, many residents tend to feel that these nighttime displays are adding to, not alleviating stress: upsetting pets, depriving many from sleep, negatively impacting our veterans with PTSD, and, in our cities, posing a safety issue.

Our frontline workers, specifically those who are called upon to protect and serve, from our police departments to fire companies, have already seen an increase in demand for their services as our communities continue to come back to life amid a global pandemic.

As such, the added burden placed by the uptick in pyrotechnics across our communities is not making their jobs any easier, or our streets any safer.

Just last week, I read of an incident in the Bronx where police officers responded to what was reported as gunshots only to find a teenager had been struck in his chest while lighting off fireworks.

While fireworks are available for legal purchase by Pennsylvania residents, there are regulations and laws that limit where they can be used.

Those who are caught violating existing use laws do face citations but catching people using legally purchased fireworks illegally can prove to be a taxing and challenging nightly occurrence for law enforcement.

There are strict rules about where you can legally use the aerial fireworks that a new law made available in 2017. Pennsylvanians are allowed to purchase “consumer fireworks,” which contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive material. This includes firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets.

Pennsylvania State Police restrictions include:

  • You must be more than 150 feet away from any “occupied structure” — defined as “any structure, vehicle or place adapted for overnight accommodation” or business — whether or not any people are present there.
  • You can’t set them off on public or private property without express permission of the owner.
  • You can’t set them off from, within or toward a building or vehicle.
  • You can’t set them off if you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • And, keep in mind, local municipalities may have regulations that differ from state or federal guidelines.

The fireworks are likely to continue, so too are efforts and conversations to find a balanced solution to address safety concerns that ensure our celebrations are mindful of the collective whole. Rest assured, I am working with my colleagues in Harrisburg to address this issue so that a fair and balanced solution can be found.

There is no reason why our communities should feel like, as one person called it, “a war zone.”

State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, a Democrat, represents the Lehigh County-based 133rd House District. She writes from Harrisburg.