Fireworks laws leading to confusion

June 27, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL


A Greencastle, Pa., resident may not buy many of the fireworks that are for sale at Pennsylvania businesses.

But someone who lives just across the state's border with Maryland may buy those same fireworks from those businesses and take them into Maryland.

Many of the products are illegal for use without a permit in either state, which a Hagerstown assistant fire marshal said leads to confusion among consumers and circumvention of some existing laws.

Cpl. Nolan Brewbaker, supervisor of the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal's Unit, said that changes to Pennsylvania law last year include allowing businesses to sell fireworks to out-of-state residents on a retail level. Brewbaker said that sales of consumer fireworks, ones beyond novelty items such as sparklers and toy caps that are legal for use in the state, had been allowed solely on a wholesale basis.


Brewbaker said that Pennsylvania residents may not purchase the fireworks without a permit from a local municipality.

Asked if he believed state residents were going outside of their home state to get around local laws, Brewbaker said, "You're going to have that."

"Pennsylvania residents go to Ohio. Ohio residents go to Pennsylvania," Brewbaker said.

He said anyone caught using illegal fireworks in Pennsylvania could face a $100 fine.

Richard L. Miller, an assistant fire marshal in Hagerstown, said fines for those using illegal fireworks can be significantly higher - a $250 maximum fine per device and a mandatory court appearance.

Officials from the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office did not return phone calls last week seeking comments on fireworks laws, penalties and safety.

Miller said the legal differences between states can be "confusing" to customers. He said many of the people he has filed citations against are not ignorant to the laws.

"They know that they're illegal. They usually just put their head down and say, 'I know. I'm sorry,'" Miller said.

Miller said he and others in Hagerstown have altered their shifts in recent weeks as part of an effort to catch people using illegal fireworks. About 3,000 fireworks have been seized since June 1, a number that is above average for the month, he said.

"If it's flies, spins, moves or explodes, it's more than likely illegal (for use in Maryland)," Miller said.

Miller said one product that is legal is ground-based sparklers, which can be purchased at many convenience stores and parking lot-based retail tents.

Miller said anything purchased at businesses inside Washington County is likely legal for use.

Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office Deputy State Fire Marshal Faron Taylor said that despite the availability just across the borders of Pennsylvania and Ohio, many of the illegal fireworks seized statewide are from southern states.

Taylor said the responsibility of knowing what is and is not legal, as well as the safety of themselves and children, falls on the consumers.

"We're not talking about a common item you see when you walk into a store," Taylor said. "It's not a soda or candy bar. People know fireworks pose an inherent danger when used improperly."

"The mere fact that you have to go somewhere else to buy them is a testament to their knowledge of what is and isn't legal," he added.

Taylor said that spending money at some fireworks retailers is like buying an "inferior product" when there are many licensed fireworks events in the area.

"We have hundreds of licensed public fireworks displays that are free ... The choreography of some of these shows rivals that of Bob Fosse on Broadway," Taylor said.

Miller cautioned those who plan to use the novelty items that legal does not always mean safe when children are using fireworks.

"It's important that parental supervision is maintained and that they're used with care," Miller said.

More information on fireworks in Maryland is available at and in Pennsylvania at in the section labeled "Frequently Asked Questions."

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