Thursday, July 8, 2021

Pottstown Mulls Time Restrictions on Fireworks

Photos and video by Evan Brandt
Part of the official July 4th Fireworks display in Memorial Park as seen Sunday from this reporter's back yard.

It's Independence Day.

You've seen the parade, enjoyed the street fair and now you and your family have made your way to Memorial Park to enjoy the professional fireworks display put on through the efforts of the GoFourth event organizers.

But despite enjoying the big finale, on your walk home, it seems like the fireworks show is not quote over. Everywhere you turn, the just keep going off.

Now it's hours later, your kids can't sleep, your dog is hiding in the bathtub, and still they're going off. 

Come to think of it, you've been hearing these booms and pops for months.

Welcome to Pennsylvania's unleashed backyard fireworks free-for-all.

If it seems like you've been hearing ever-louder and more explosive fireworks at all hours of the night since as far back as Memorial Day, as Third Ward Pottstown Councilman Donald Lebedynsky complained Wednesday night, that's because you have.

Ever since the Pennsylvania General Assembly loosened restrictions on the size of fireworks private citizens can buy, local government have weathered an rising tide of complaints from those who are not fans of explosions on their block at one in the morning.

But there is not much police can do about it, Pottstown Police Chief Michael Markovich told borough council during Wednesday night's work session.

"State regulations do not leave us a lot of options as a police department, or a borough," Markovich told council Wednesday, acknowledging the rise in complaints about backyard fireworks displays at all hours. "This is not just a Pottstown problem."

Not only are the regulations vague and kind of common sense -- you can't throw them at people, or from or at cars, or buildings -- but the penalties for violating those rules is a fine only as high as $100. And that's only if your get caught.

"We did have officers go our and find people who had measured out 150 feet from any building, they had a platform and they told our officers 'I just spent $200 or $300 on fireworks, and I am going to set them off' and all our officers could do is tell them to please be safe," Markovich told council.

The borough can't even use its noise ordinance to cite those setting them off because it specifically exempts fireworks.

Since 2017, when the state legislature changed the law, "fireworks have gotten worse, and I apologize there is not much we can do to stop them," Markovich said.

This still from a backyard video shows that neighborhood
fireworks being shot on July 4th, left,
rivaled the professional fireworks held in
Memorial Park, right.
He said there have been several deaths this year as a result of fireworks, including the Wynewood firefighter who died fighting a fire on his very last shift. "That fire was started by fireworks," Markovich said.

"I've been hearing fireworks since Memorial Day," said Council Vice President Donald Lebedynsky. "And when you have animals, like one of my dogs who is scared of loud noises, and I'm dealing with it every night. It gets taxing."

The state law, does not make any mention about when fireworks can be shot off, said Markovich.

"The problem is they're sold everywhere and they're going to continue to sell them until they're out of them," he said.

"The problem is only going to get worse, and I don't think it's going to go away," said Markovich. "The state is getting too much tax revenue from it."

And since the borough cannot enact an ordinance that supersedes or is more restrictive than the vaguely written state law, options for controlling the increasing use of powerful backyard fireworks are limited, said Markovich.

One option, discussed with Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr., is to place time limits on when fireworks can be used, said Markovich.

Or, "maybe people will start being more considerate," Markovich said.

"Can you imagine if all those people who bought their own fireworks, $100 bucks here, $200 bucks there, donated instead to the GoFourth Committee?" said Borough Council President Dan Weand. " We could put up a display that would put Disney to shame."

Click here to see the Tweets from Wednesday night's meeting.

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