Thursday, July 9, 2020

Fireworks Excesses Pushing Council to Seek Change

If you're one of those people who has been setting off fireworks for a month, and at all hours of the day and, most especially the night, borough council is not too happy with you.

Although not on the agenda, the subject was on every council member's lips, just like everyone else.

The Pottstown Fire Department answered 15 to 20 calls on July 4th alone, said Chief Frank Hand. "Nothing major, mostly just boxes and packages catching fire, but still, it was a lot," he told council.

Police Chief Michael Markovich said the department received more than 100 911 calls over the weekend that were all fireworks complaints.

"The legislature did us no favors in 2017 when they passed a new fireworks law, essentially gutting all the local ordinances," said Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. 

The problems caused by the combination of looser fireworks restrictions and the absence of major displays due to the COVID-19 pandemic "is being talked about across the state," Garner said.

According to the state law, fireworks are only allowed to be set off 150 feet from the nearest structure. "I'm not sure there is a place in the borough where you are 150 feet away from any structure," said Garner.

But that hasn't seemed to stop people.

Councilwoman Lisa Vanni said "there were fireworks set off 10 feet from my front door. It was so close, some of my bushes got singed."

Markovich says as it stands now, the most police can do is issue a citation for anyone violating the restrictions, but "we're kind of handcuffed because we have to see the person set them off."

He confirmed Councilman Ryan Procsal's suspicion that a camera image would be enough evidence to warrant a citation.

What can be leverage, said Garner, is the borough's noise ordinance, which forbids excessive noise after 9 p.m. on weekdays and after 11 p.m. on weekends. The fine for violating the noise ordinance ranges from $600 to $1,000.

"If people keep setting them off, we're going to be enforcing it if I have to get Mick out of bed every night," said Mayor Stephanie Henrick. "Fourth of July is over," added Councilwoman Trenita Lindsay.

Hand said he has been in contact with a fire chiefs association that plans to send a letter to legislators pushing for the law to be made more restrictive. At Council President Dan Weand's urging, Garner will also pen a letter for council to send.

Henrick, who has regular contact with mayors of other boroughs in Montgomery County, said she is sure those mayors and borough councils would sign it as well.

"I guess we'll take the lead then," said Weand.

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