The Role of Municipalities in Regulating Fireworks
As we near July 4th and the summer season in general, we as solicitors are frequently asked what role municipalities play in regulating fireworks displays within the municipal boundaries. The answer is that local municipalities and police departments are the primary regulators of consumer fireworks and public fireworks displays and so municipal officials must be prepared to properly handle requests for fireworks displays within the municipality.
The Pennsylvania Fireworks and Explosives Act of 1939 (the “Fireworks Law”) authorizes municipalities to issue permits to individuals or groups for fireworks displays. Section 1534 of the Second Class Township Code also allows Townships to “[g]rant permits for supervised public displays of fireworks and adopt rules and regulations governing the displays.” In fact, the use of most fireworks is prohibited in Pennsylvania without a permit. Only the use of items defined as “ground and hand-held sparkling devices”, “novelties” and “toy caps” in American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) Standard 87-1 are not currently regulated by State Law; therefore, their sale and use are permissible. These “non-fireworks” are the only types allowed to be sold from tents, stands, convenience stores, retail establishments and other various outlets not licensed by the Department of Agriculture. A municipality may adopt rules and regulations for fireworks displays by ordinance in order to regulate where, when, how and what fireworks may be displayed, or the municipality may simply administer the basic regulatory framework set forth in the Fireworks Law, which largely just requires the fireworks display be operated by a competent operator and be located in a safe place.
Under the Fireworks Law, the permit for a fireworks display is issued by the municipality where the display will take place. The municipality is the only governing body with authority to issue this permit; there is no State fireworks permit. Before issuing a permit, the municipality must: (1) verify the person applying for the permit is a competent operator (if you are hiring someone to perform the display, that person or corporation must be registered with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and must obtain a local permit); (2) direct it’s local fire chief to inspect the site to ensure it is safe for the intended fireworks display and in compliance with the International Fire code if deemed necessary; and (3) require the operator to post at least a $500 bond (PSATS recommends a $1,000,000 bond be required).
Permits that are issued for public fireworks displays are non-transferable. The permits should also be issued for specific days. The Fireworks Law contains a specific provision for extending permits when the displays are delayed due to bad weather.
Local permits are also available to agricultural operations that will use fireworks to protect crops from pests such as crows or deer. The Fireworks Law does not require a fire chief inspection for agricultural use, but such an inspection should still be considered. The municipality should also place conditions on the permit for drought conditions to minimize the risk of brush fires. Permits for agricultural use are good for one calendar year after issuance.
Consumer and display fireworks may only be purchased and sold in Pennsylvania under certain conditions. Pennsylvania residents may only purchase or possess consumer fireworks if they have a display permit issued by the municipality wherein the display will take place. As a result of a 2004 amendment to the Fireworks Law, non-residents may, upon proof of out-of-state residency status, purchase consumer fireworks from a facility licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provided the consumer fireworks are transported directly out of state by the seller or purchaser.
Violations of the Fireworks Law can be enforced by any law enforcement official having jurisdiction over the municipality in which the violation occurs. The Fireworks Law allows law enforcement officials to make arrests and confiscate fireworks. To report a violation of the Fireworks Law simply contact the Police Department servicing your area in the same manner as you would report any other crime.