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June 30, 2017

Backyard fireworks on the Fourth: Will police arrest you?

Fourth of July weekend is once again upon us, with its family BBQs, impressive sky-high fireworks displays and the annual Wawa Welcome America parade and concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

It also means a surfeit of pyrotechnic amateurs toiling in darkened neighborhood streets and backyards.

Those non-professional displays inevitably lead to deaths and injuries nationwide every year.

In recent years, a western Pennsylvania man died after a firework he was attempting to light, exploded prematurely. And a 52-year-old New Jersey man lost a large piece of his left leg when he lit a large firework, then dropped it. He suffered a compound fracture in his left leg and serious burns to his right leg, police said.

According a report by United State Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least four people were killed in firework-related incidents and another 11,100 were treated for injuries caused by fireworks in 2016, with more than 68 percent of those injuries reported between June 18, 2016 and July 18, 2016. 

But, if you live in Philadelphia, you really shouldn't have fireworks at all.

"Basically, fireworks can’t be used in Philadelphia," said Lieutenant David Kearney of the Philadelphia Fire Department's fire code unit told PhillyVoice last summer. "The Philadelphia Fire Code is very restrictive on when they can be used. This is due to the risks posed, including injury and fire. There is a higher risk of fire in the city due to the type of construction typically used and the lack of proper clearance." 

In the past year, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the use of "ground and hand-held sparkling devices,” “novelties” and “toy caps." So, if you're at a fireworks stand in Pennsylvania at some point this weekend and find mortars and fireworks that shoot off into the night sky, you won't be able to buy them with your Pennsylvania driver's license. 


Pennsylvania law still forbids residents from buying and setting off consumer and display fireworks in Pennsylvania without a permit, so anything larger than sparklers and snakes could get you in trouble with local law enforcement. (In practice, however, it would seem the backyard displays are tolerated in many jurisdictions – until somebody gets hurt or property is damaged.)

In Philadelphia, violators of the state's firework laws can be assessed a fine of up to $2,000. Anyone who engages in sales of illegal fireworks in Pennsylvania can be charged with a third-degree felony.

You may also lose your illegal stash. Pennsylvania State Police fireworks regulations permit a law enforcement official from any municipality in the state to confiscate any fireworks that fall outside of Pennsylvania guidelines. 

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie this week signed a bill to make legal "non-explosive, non-aerial" fireworks – like sparklers and party poppers – just in time for the Fourth holiday. Possession and sale of non-explosive fireworks, like sparklers, glow-worms and smoke devices, are now permitted. 

The state had been one of three, including Delaware, with a ban on all fireworks.

The punishment for selling, possessing and using illegal fireworks is steep in New Jersey. According to state law, the sale or possession of fireworks, with intent to sell, is a crime of the fourth degree. 

Any person found guilty of possessing illegal fireworks with the intention of selling them, can be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned up to 18 months and, any person found using fireworks illegally can be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for up to 30 days.

If you still hope to set off fireworks in Pennsylvania or New Jersey – and do it legally – you'll need to get a permit from the municipality where the display will take place. 

In New Jersey, each municipality sets the cost of a firework permit and, even then, permits aren't often permitted for personal use. 


A stand sells fireworks at the Dreshertown Plaza shopping center on Limekiln Pike in Dresher, Montgomery County.


In Philadelphia, getting a permit is not a simple process. 

According to Kearney, you need approval from the fire department. To get that, you'll need an application for operation permit from the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections and a certificate of general liability insurance in an amount no less than $1 million with the “City of Philadelphia” indicated as an insured party.

In addition, you'll need a check in the amount of $300 made payable to the City of Philadelphia, a copy of a business privilege license – yours or the fireworks production company's – plus a copy of the company’s fireworks certificate of registration from the state Attorney General's office, a copy of a federal explosive license or permit, a curriculum vitae spelling out training, licenses and certifications, and and a list of recent relevant work.

You'll also need a completed Philadelphia Fire Department pyrotechnician information form and a copy of your state-issued ID or driver’s license.

Finally, you'll need to provide the Philadelphia Fire Department with two letters. The first will need to include:

• A schedule indicating a definitive time when the effects will be used and rain dates.

• A shot list indicating the devices, products and the amounts being used

• A site diagram showing the layout of the effect and/or scene

• A safety plan that indicates compliance with the provisions of the Philadelphia Fire Code and relevant Nation Fire Protection Association standards for the effect.

You'll also need to submit a letter granting permission from the owner of the property where the fireworks will be used.

All of this, Kearney said, must be submitted to the Philadelphia Fire Department, no later than 15 days before you intend to fire off the fireworks. 

"It’s best to leave fireworks to the professionals," he said. 


If you'd rather leave the mortar-launching to professionals, here's where to see them in the area – from a safe distance.