Home Legal Issues Fire departments warn against illegal use of fireworks during the pandemic

Fire departments warn against illegal use of fireworks during the pandemic

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Rachel Kubik
The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

RAYMOND — Fireworks stores were bustling over the weekend, one week before Independence Day.

Meanwhile, fire officials are warning people that it remains illegal to set the fireworks off in most places.

At Phantom Fireworks of Racine, located at 2086 27th St., Raymond, lines were out the door and wrapped around several times in an outdoor tent. Customers came from Racine County, Milwaukee County and from across the Illinois state line. Xtreme Fireworks located nearby at 2720 W. Five Mile Road, also had long lines.

Firework consumption has been increasing each year in both pounds of fireworks used and revenue made by the industry.

In 2019, Americans consumed 273 million pounds of fireworks, according the American Pyrotechnics Association, amounting for $375 million spent on display fireworks and $1 billion on consumer fireworks. This was an increase from $360 million spent on display fireworks and $945 million on consumer fireworks in 2018.

Ryley Harlow, general manager at Phantom Fireworks, said the business has seen a significant increase in purchases this year.

Harlow said because the store has been busier than normal, every aspect to the business has increased, including staffing, security measures and the number of times trucks are unloaded.

“With the coronavirus, people being cooped up at home and many fireworks shows in the area canceled, people are buying fireworks for their own use and for their kids,” he said. “It allows them to have some sort of normalcy back in their lives.”

Harlow has also noticed an increase in the larger fireworks, such as repeaters and assortments.

Repeaters, also known as “cakes,” are a group of mortars wrapped together and connected by a single fuse. These are typically the biggest and most expensive fireworks.

Recurring shoppers have come back twice or more just this year, continuing to use fireworks as the pandemic goes on. New customers are coming in for the first time as well, Harlow said. He is encouraging customers to shop early to avoid long lines.

Keep laws in mind

State law mandates users of any form of aerial fireworks obtain a permit. The Village of Raymond is the only Racine County municipality that issues this type of permit.

Ground fireworks, such as fountains, sparklers and spinners, are excluded from the state’s legal definition of fireworks, meaning they are allowed under state law, but could be subject to regulation by local ordinances.

Statewide, the penalty for selling, possessing or setting off aerial fireworks without a permit is up to $1,000 per offense. State law also gives municipalities the power to charge violators with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail, up to a $10,000 fine, or both.

Steve Salvo, battalion chief at South Shore Fire Department said fireworks can be a danger when used improperly. Even though South Shore hasn’t had many issues with residents and their fireworks, Salvo suggests that people follow the law.

“If it leaves the ground, it’s illegal,” Salvo said. “It’s worth pointing out that sometimes they can be purchased legally but it’s not always legal to use them. It’s kind of a catch-22, if you will.”

He encourages people to check with their local police department about firework laws if they are unsure.

“I would say leave it to the professionals, but as we know there’s not going to be a lot of professional shows this year,” he said.

Racine and Sturtevant’s firework shows were canceled, but Burlington’s was not and a display over Tichigan Lake will still go on.

Putting on their own show

Customers of Phantom on Saturday morning seemed to echo the trend of buying more fireworks.

For example, Nikia Morris of Racine said he is purchasing more this year than he did last year.

“Everybody is doing it,” he said.

Lighting fireworks brings a bit of positivity in light of recent events and violence such as the protests and riots for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, he said. “Where’s the excitement? It brings a little bit of peace to the neighborhood.”

Morris is looking forward to having a day off work, a BBQ, hanging out and having fun with friends and family: “Every man still has a child in him. I get a rush from (lighting fireworks),” he said.

What Harlow said about customers buying fireworks for their children was true for Tatiana Moore and Jamie White, who said they’re buying fireworks for the first time together to put on a display for their daughter, who is 1 year old. They reside in Milwaukee.

“She likes it,” Moore said. “Fireworks explode and make all these cool things.”

Mike and Jessica Lindblad of Racine said a flyer from Phantom Fireworks sent to their home brought them in to the store Saturday. They planned on purchasing the same amount of fireworks this year as they did last year.

“We’re looking forward to fireworks, a cookout and beer,” Jessica said. “We like being able to spend the Fourth with the kids and we still want to be able to give them the oohs and aahs.”

Patrick and Dawn Wallner of Milwaukee said they went to Phantom because it was the closest store and they have been there a few times.

With all the canceled fireworks shows, Patrick said buying their own fireworks “is something” and they are increasing the amount purchased.

“We’re just not doing anything,” Dawn said. “We’re cooped up; we’ve gotta do something.”

Ramona Dimoulias said she’s buying fireworks because her Fourth of July celebration includes all of her mother’s children, coming together for the first time in six years.

The Chicago resident said she’s buying more fireworks this year, especially repeaters. Her husband is Greek and the tradition has been to set off fireworks for holidays, so the family sets them off for everything, she said.

“We look for excuses to set off fireworks,” she said. “It’s the epitome of celebration. We’re just going to put on our own show.”

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©2020 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

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