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'I Am Scared.' City Officials Prepare For First 4th Of July With Legal Fireworks

Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA
“This is just a little mini pipe bomb,” Adam Turk, a bomb technician with the Pittsburgh Police Department bomb squad, says. Powerful explosives are still illegal under the new law permitting consumer grade fireworks.";s:

It’s Pennsylvania’s first Fourth of July with legal commercial grade fireworks, and the City of Pittsburgh is warning consumers of the dangers they bring.  The state eased restrictions on types of fireworks available for purchase last fall when legislators repealed the Fireworks Act.

City Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said not understanding how to use fireworks can be dangerous.

“The worst call that I get is, of course, an individual that has lost an arm, or fingers, or even their life due to fireworks,” he said. “We strongly encourage people not to use any fireworks and leave it up to the professionals."

It's recommended that only adults should handle fireworks and follow the instructions on the packaging. Officials said it's important to keep water close and make sure all spectators are at a safe distance. Duds should not be relit. Instead, wait 30 minutes before approaching the device, soak it in a bucket of water and dispose it in a metal container with a lid.

In addition, Hissrich said it’s still illegal to set off fireworks in Pittsburgh within 150 feet of a building – that’s about 10 car lengths.

UPMC Mercy Burn Center medical director Jenny Ziembicki is anticipating more injuries this year. She said injuries to the face, eyes and hands are the most common with fireworks.

“You know, I think there’s a false safety that people project when you say that a firework is legal,” Ziembicki said. “So, none of them are safe.”

Officials also clarified some misconceptions about the new law – commercial grade fireworks, or what can be purchased in a store, are different from display grade. That’s what you’ll see in a professional firework display, and those are not sold the public. 

Powerful explosives like M-80s, Silver Salutes and Cherry Bombs are still illegal, and the penalty for getting caught with one is a $1,000 fine and confiscation.

Adam Turk, a bomb technician with the Pittsburgh Police Department bomb squad, said consumers should also avoid purchasing these powerful explosives for safety reasons. Holding up a confiscated homemade explosive, he compared it to a mini pipe bomb.

“Fireworks you buy at a store or in a wrapper. They come from a company,” Turk said. “This is out of somebody’s trunk.

Hissrich said if the newly legal fireworks cause local problems or a tragedy, he’ll ask the state legislature to re-instate the old ban.

“Hopefully I won’t be here on July 5th telling you of injuries, because I am scared,” he said. “People think all fireworks are legal, and that’s not the case.”

Jakob Lazzaro is a digital producer at WESA and WYEP. He comes to Pittsburgh from South Bend, Ind., where he worked as the senior reporter and assignment editor at WVPE and had fun on-air hosting local All Things Considered two days a week, but he first got to know this area in 2018 as an intern at WESA (and is excited to be back). He graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 and has also previously reported for CalMatters and written NPR's Source of the Week email newsletter.