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Pittsburgh brings back fireworks task force ahead of July 4th

A statue of Pittsburgh Pirates' star Roberto Clemente is silhouetted by a fireworks display. The Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals at home on July 4, with a 12:35 p.m. start at PNC Park.
Gene J. Puskar
A statue of Pittsburgh Pirates' star Roberto Clemente is silhouetted by a fireworks display. The Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals at home on July 4, with a 12:35 p.m. start at PNC Park.

Ahead of the Independence Day holiday, the City of Pittsburgh has reactivated its fireworks task force. The 14-person group includes firefighters and police officers who will respond to fireworks-related calls throughout the city in the evenings.

“Their mission is to look for individuals that are utilizing fireworks against state law,” said Assistant Chief Christopher Ragland. He said that in addition to enforcing the law, the team will work to “educate the public on what’s permissible.”

Consumer-grade fireworks have been legal to purchase in Pennsylvania since 2017 for those 18 and older. But state and city laws still regulate how and where fireworks can be set off.

Lighting fireworks is prohibited in city parks and fields. It’s also illegal to light them off in the direction of another person or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Fireworks cannot be discharged within 150 feet of a building or vehicle, even if it is owned by the user.

The task force began patrols Sunday and will continue through July 5.

Its goal is to "allow for the safe usage of legally purchased pyrotechnics, as long as they are used in compliance with the laws established by the Commonwealth and the laws and ordinances of the City of Pittsburgh,” said Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt.

Misuse or illegal use of fireworks can result in citations, arrests or confiscations of fireworks.

The task force also hopes to work with event organizers ahead of time, to educate them on how to prevent fires and bodily injuries from fireworks.

“We always stress safety around this time of year,” Ragland said, noting that injuries ranging from burns to loss of limbs are common around the holiday.

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Around 9,700 Americans went to the emergency room last year with fireworks-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety commission.

Pennsylvania officials are also stressing safety precautions ahead of the holiday. The State Fire Commissioner launched a new fireworks safety campaign last week.

“In 2022, fireworks were involved in more than 10,000 visits to the ER. And in 2018 fireworks started 19,500 fires and caused over $100 million in property damage,” said Deputy State Fire Commissioner John Tedorski. "A few simple precautions can ensure that you are not contributing to these alarming statistics."

The state recommends the following precautions when handling fireworks:

  • Never allow children to play with fireworks, even sparklers, which can burn at temperatures of 2,000 degrees, as hot as a blow torch. They are the second-leading cause of fireworks-related visits to the ER.
  • Have a fire extinguisher, bucket of water, or hose handy in case of a fire.
  • Never pick up or try to relight fireworks that have not fully ignited.
  • Place any spent or “dud" fireworks in a bucket of water for several hours before throwing them away.
  • Never use fireworks after consuming alcohol or other medications or substances that can impair judgment or the ability to react quickly to an emergency.
  • Wear safety glasses.
  • Know where each firework lands and make sure to clean up spent fireworks. Do not assume that a rocket or other airborne firework has landed safely and extinguished itself.

Fireworks will be on display over Pittsburgh’s skyline as part of the city’s annual Independence Day celebration Thursday. The event will feature activities, music, food and entertainment at Point State Park, along Liberty Avenue and on the North Shore.
The city’s fireworks display will begin at 9:35 p.m. Thursday.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.