Borough Looks to Take Hard-Line Stance on Fireworks

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Times (and laws) have changed in Pennsylvania, and fireworks are no longer used solely by pros on the Fourth of July. In fact, because of the passage of Act 43 (2017) into law, just about anyone over the age of 18 can now purchase high-powered fireworks for personal use.

But that may change in Hellertown borough.

After fielding complaints from several residents about loud fireworks being exploded late at night, frightening pets and generally causing a nuisance, Hellertown Borough Council discussed taking action to regulate and possibly even ban them at its meeting Monday night.fireworks

Mayor David Heintzelman began the discussion by defending the borough police department and its handling of what he said has been a relatively low number of complaints.

Contrary to some of the scuttlebutt around town, Heintzelman told council, “the police department did do their job” with regard to investigating fireworks complaints.

He said they investigated three complaints on Independence Day, and Police Chief Robert Shupp confirmed that several citations were issued for violations of the borough’s nuisance ordinance. Fireworks have also been confiscated, Shupp told council.

Shupp said he thinks the low number of complaints may have been because the holiday fell on a Wednesday this year, and many residents were willing to give those who were setting off the fireworks–in some cases after midnight–leeway on either side of the 4th.

Heintzelman also criticized the unidentified individuals who he said set off fireworks from the parking lot of Mountainview Moravian Church along Constitution Avenue.

Not only did they fire off their boomers on private property, but they also left a mess behind, he told council.

Heintzelman said the use and desecration of the church’s property for purposes of shooting off fireworks was both disrespectful and “totally irresponsible.”

“They’re going off all the time. They’re dangerous. And we need to do something about it,” he told council.

Shupp said the borough doesn’t have an ordinance that regulates fireworks in order to help prevent such incidents from re-occurring. But he hopes to change that.

Part of the issue stems from the fact that the new Pennsylvania fireworks law, which took effect in late 2017, only regulates fireworks to a minimal degree.

Shupp said he interprets that lack of regulation to mean that municipalities now have the authority to set their own rules for fireworks, above and beyond what the state has codified.

One section of the state law specifies that fireworks cannot be used within 150 feet of any occupied structure.

However, that still leaves places like sidewalks, roadways and other public rights-of-way–as well as parking lots and parks–as locations where fireworks could be shot off by members of the public.

Shupp said the borough’s fireworks ordinance should be written in a way that would make those locations off limits, which could essentially result in a de facto ban on fireworks (except in the case of professional displays) in the borough.

Rieger, however, questioned whether the borough can actually “ban” fireworks.

The borough can opt to specify a curfew for the use of fireworks, such as 9 p.m., Shupp said, and Rieger said he would like to see “a hard cutoff time” for their use put into place.

The chief said the ordinance he will recommend council adopt would also:

  • Prohibit the use of fireworks by any intoxicated person
  • Specify fines and penalties for people who violate it
  • Outline under what circumstances fireworks can be confiscated and destroyed by police

Heintzelman asked whether an exception to the proposed rules could be made on the Fourth of July, when many Americans like to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks.

In response to that question, he was told that council has the authority to temporarily suspend its own ordinance if it so chooses.

Shupp said he will work with solicitor Michael Corriere to come up with a draft borough fireworks ordinance for council to review at its next meeting, which will be held Monday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Hellertown Borough Hall.

 

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