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'We Wish Fireworks Were Not Legal.' Explosives Put Strain On Pittsburgh Law Enforcement

Charlie Neibergall
In this Friday, June 16, 2017 photo, Julian Gibson, of Dallas Center, Iowa, holds packages of fireworks before buying them in a tent owned by the Iowa Fireworks Company, in Adel, Iowa.

Pittsburgh's first summer with legal fireworks has been a headache for law enforcement, according to Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri.

It's illegal to set off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure, meaning fireworks set off in most city neighborhoods are illegal.

"That pretty much rules out almost everywhere except parks and cemeteries, and you need permission to do fireworks in areas like that," Togneri said.

Tognieri said police investigate all calls about fireworks, which can tie up resources for pursuing other crimes.

"We wish that fireworks were not legal in the city of Pittsburgh," Togneri said. "But they are, so we're dealing with it."

He said firework complaints have continued since the 4th of July, and State Senator Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) said this is a trend across the state. However, he said it's unlikely the law will be changed unless the number of firework injuries skyrocket.

"Right now, we need to monitor what's taking place," Costa said. "At the end of the day I think we need to take a comprehensive look at [firework feedback]."

The legalization of fireworks was signed in October by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf as part of a compromise budget package with the Republican-controlled Legislature. While broadening the legal sale and use of fireworks, it slapped a new 12 percent tax on the purchases.

Analysts in the House of Representatives projected that the new law would generate just over $9 million in a full year, a drop in the bucket for a state that faced a $2 billion projected revenue gap in a $32 billion budget.

Display-grade fireworks remain limited to those operators with a permit, and certain devices remain illegal under federal law, such as M-80s, M-100s, cherry bombs or quarter- and half-sticks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.