Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

The Fourth of July is looming, and Americans have plenty to feel frightened about this year.

First and foremost, there’s still a pandemic unfolding across the country that has brought illness and death. Then, there’s the economic devastation that has been wrought by the deadly pathogen. Many Americans have lost jobs or businesses, and the ones who haven’t are afraid their livelihood could end up slipping away, too.

But when our country’s independence is celebrated next weekend, Pennsylvanians will have an additional item to add to their list of concerns. They’ll be wondering if a rocket fired off in their neighbor’s yard will land on their roof and set their house ablaze.

Those worries have been amplified by the cancellation of many municipal fireworks displays due to the coronavirus. For some people, Independence Day just isn’t Independence Day without bombs bursting in air, so they may decide to go out and buy fireworks that became legal in Pennsylvania three years ago, such as bottle rockets and Roman candles, and put on a show for their family and friends.

The fireworks are not supposed to be set off within 150 feet of an occupied structure, but that rule is routinely ignored and the maximum penalty when citations are issued is just $100. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks caused almost 20,000 fires in 2018, and almost 2,000 of those were structure fires.

The association also reports that, in the same year, emergency rooms from sea to shining sea treated more than 9,000 injuries related to fireworks. One-third of those injuries were to children under the age of 15, and one-third of the injuries were to the eye or other parts of the head.

Last summer, fireworks caused the roof of an elementary school in Reading to catch on fire. An 11-year-old boy died in a house fire in Luzerne County caused by fireworks.

Then, there’s the raw annoyance of having fireworks going off deep into the night, disturbing pets and disrupting sleep.

Many municipal leaders, fire officials and lawmakers across the state have had second thoughts about the loosened fireworks regulations since they landed on the books three years ago, but they believe repealing it is a long shot given the tax revenue and jobs fireworks generate. There is room for sensible modifications, though, such as granting local officials greater power to regulate when they can be used, and giving police greater enforcement power.

State Rep. Peter Schweyer, a Democrat from the Lehigh Valley, recently told WFMZ-TV, “If a cop shows up to somebody’s backyard and there’s firework debris all over the place and then they see a big stash of fireworks in the corner, right now they’re not allowed to confiscate that big stash of fireworks.”

Ideally, fireworks should be left to the professionals. And the big displays will be back next year, presuming a vaccine or herd immunity arrives. After all, there’s a lot more to the Fourth than just fireworks.

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