For weeks, neighborhoods all over the city have been inundated with the blast of fireworks as the July 4 holiday approaches. In fact, between May 29 and June 29, Philadelphia police fielded 8,526 complaints about fireworks.
Despite a collection of theories swirling around the internet, no one seems to be sure why that is happening. Some say the constant fireworks are a sign of boredom. Some say it’s that fireworks are more easily available. Some have speculated that they are related to the protests over the killing of George Floyd, though a city spokesperson says that officials are not aware of any connection between the two.
But one thing city officials do know, said city Managing Director Brian Abernathy, is that DIY fireworks shows are dangerous.
Regardless of warnings, though, it seems fireworks are going to be the soundtrack of the summer. But a lot of questions remain. Here’s what we know about what’s allowed and what you can do about it:
Pennsylvanians have had legal access to certain, more powerful fireworks since 2017, when legislators passed House Bill 542. That bill allowed state residents to legally purchase and use “consumer-grade” or “Class C” fireworks that contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive material, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
That means firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and the like are all legal. Before 2017, only people from out-of-state could buy those fireworks in Pennsylvania, while state residents were limited to non-aerial items like sparklers and ground fountains.
When the new bill was passed, however, it conflicted with the Philadelphia Fire Code, which banned the use of consumer fireworks in the city without a permit. That changed last year, on July 3, 2019, when Mayor Jim Kenney signed an updated fire code that allowed for the use of consumer fireworks in the city, with several important restrictions.
There are some types of fireworks that are still off the table for Pennsylvanians. Chief among them: “display fireworks” — the really big, showy stuff — which require special permits and are intended for use by professional pyrotechnicians.
While we’re all learning about fireworks, here: Pennsylvania defines display fireworks as anything that contains more than 130 milligrams (or two grains) of explosives, and “aerial shells,” which contain more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic composition. Think the stuff you see at public events, like the (now-canceled) Independence Day fireworks show on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Also off limits: highly explosive M-type devices, such as M-80s and M-100s, which are classified as “Illegal Explosive Devices” by agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Probably not. Philadelphia’s law strictly limits how fireworks can be used, essentially making them tough to set off legally and safely within city limits.
For starters, only people aged 18 years and older are allowed to buy, possess, or use consumer fireworks. They also cannot be used on public property or private property without the written consent from the owner. And fireworks can’t be set off within 150 feet of an occupied structure, under trees or power lines.
You’re also not allowed to set off fireworks from inside or toward a building or vehicle. And you’re not allowed to use them if you’ve been drinking or using drugs, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
In addition to the rules about where you can set off pyrotechnics, a proposed state bill would restrict when — it would ban the use of fireworks between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. (except on holidays like the Fourth of July). The bill, which was referred to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee last year, would also increase the age limit for fireworks use to 21. It’s currently waiting to be considered, according to NBC10.
According to Pennsylvania’s fireworks laws, selling illegal fireworks is a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years and a fine of up to $15,000. (Illegally selling consumer fireworks, meanwhile, is a second-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to $5,000.)
Setting off consumer fireworks illegally is a summary offense, and can mean a fine of up to $100. However, as a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson said last year, illegal fireworks use in the city could lead to a “plethora of charges.”
If you see someone using fireworks illegally — such as near occupied structures or using high-explosive fireworks — or want to report a late-night noise complaint, you can call 911 or your local police district to report it. Will it help? Kenney, however, noted online that “enforcement is difficult because people tend to leave the scene quickly.”