Is Ohio's fireworks law a dud?


JULY FOURTH FIREPOWER: Barry White of Duquesne, Pa., shops for fireworks at Phantom Fireworks on Market Street in Youngstown.

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Chief Jimmy Hughes.

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Boardman Police Chief Patrick Berarducci

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State Rep. Thomas Letson of Warren, D-64th

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Rep. Robert F. Hagan, D-Youngstown. (AP Photo/Larry Phillips)

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State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd

Police officials in the Valley say Ohio’s fireworks law needs to be changed.

By David Skolnick


Those inside the Phantom Fireworks showroom on Market Street in Youngstown legally purchase fireworks with colorful names — “Fear No Evil,” “Rain of Fire,” “Shagadelic Mojo,” “Battle of Yorktown Assortment” and “Molotov Cocktail.”

You’ll see these and other fireworks on display this weekend in your neighborhood, perhaps by you or someone down the street.

Though it’s illegal to ignite these and other consumer fireworks, unless you’re careless, reckless or just plain stupid, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be arrested.

“To eliminate [people using fireworks] would be impossible,” said Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes. “We try to control the nuisance issue. Most complaints are noise violations for people setting them off for hours. We give out warnings and have conversations telling people to shut them down. We get way more calls [on fireworks] than we can handle.”

State law also requires those who buy fireworks to sign a document stating they’ll get the fireworks purchased in Ohio out of the state within 48 hours or face criminal charges.

“Knowingly making a false statement on this form is falsification under Section 2921.13 of the Ohio Revised Code and is punishable as a misdemeanor of the first degree,” the form reads.

A first-degree misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

But don’t get too worried about getting arrested if you violate the law.

“I don’t have the time or manpower to enforce a law that’s basically unenforceable,” said Boardman Police Chief Patrick J. Beraducci. “The signing of a document is impossible to enforce. Do I follow you for 49 hours to make sure you get it out of the state? We have burglaries and other crimes to handle. It’s not a good use of our time.”

Beraducci, Hughes and state legislators say not only should the law requiring fireworks consumers to sign a document be changed, but so should the law making it illegal to use consumer fireworks in Ohio.

“Don’t make them legal with a wink; just make them legal,” Beraducci said. “To be honest, I don’t know why Ohio has the law they have. It’s unenforceable. The public interest is better served by allowing not only the sale of fireworks, but the use of fireworks.”

This is a topic that comes up nearly every year around the Fourth of July, but the state Legislature hasn’t done anything to change the law in decades.

State Reps. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, and Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, said they’ve had only preliminary talks with colleagues about a bill to change the fireworks law but haven’t proposed legislation.

“We’ve been busy with other things,” Letson said. “But it’s time to explore whether the law needs to be changed. It’s worth discussing.”

Letson suggests making legally sold consumer fireworks ­— such as fountains, Roman candles, cones, bottle rockets and aerials — legal for people to use around the Fourth of July and around New Year’s.

Also, the document each person buying fireworks signs promising to take the items out of state within 48 hours of purchase should be eliminated, he said.

“We shouldn’t make laws that turn our citizenry into liars,” Letson said.

The Legislature needs to take action to legalize consumer fireworks, said Hagan, a state legislator for the past 23 years.

“We don’t do anything, and we need to,” he said. “We should have a law that adjusts itself to reality. We also need to eliminate the forms.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, called the fireworks law “a little outdated” and “not based in reality.”

The only fireworks legal to use in Ohio are sparklers, snaps, smoke bombs and glow snakes. Those items take up a small enclosed portion of the Phantom Fireworks showroom on Market Street in North Lima.

“The law isn’t enforced, and it shouldn’t be,” Schiavoni said. “They should be legal as long as you are careful with fireworks, they’re not done by kids and you don’t use large explosives. Maybe the state should reclassify some of the smaller fireworks, like bottle rockets, to make them legal to use. Fireworks are American, and it’s what the Fourth of July is all about.”

If consumer fireworks are legalized in Ohio, retailers should be required to provide safety information about how to properly use them, Hagan said.

Phantom Fireworks, a subsidiary of the Youngstown-based B.J. Alan Co., includes safety information with every purchase, said William Weimer, the company’s vice president and general counsel.

“It’s difficult to run public-service announcements on fireworks safety in a state where it’s illegal,” he said.

The lone fireworks change from last year is the form signed by those who purchase the items no longer requires people to provide a city and state where they’re supposedly taking the fireworks, Weimer said. That Ohio Division of the State Fire Marshal made the change to the form after talking with those in the fireworks industry, he said.

B.J. Alan officials want Ohio to change the consumer fireworks law to make it legal to use them at least during certain times of the year — around the Fourth of July, New Year’s, Memorial Day and Labor Day, Weimer said.

“Fireworks are safer, and the public is smarter when using them,” he said.

The use of all or certain consumer fireworks is legal in 45 states.

Attempts by The Vindicator to talk to more than 15 people buying fireworks at the Phantom Fireworks store in North Lima were unsuccessful. Nearly all declined to comment.

Those who did talk requested anonymity saying they were concerned about getting into trouble for breaking the state’s fireworks law. Those people said they disagree with the state’s fireworks law and want to see it be changed.

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OHIO LAW | What it says

Here are some tips to enjoy a safe and happy Fourth of July:

- LEGAL: Trick and novelty fireworks, such as sparklers, snaps, glow snakes and smoke bombs, are legal. These can be sold and used legally in Ohio.

- OTHER FIREWORKS: Exhibitor fireworks, such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, skyrockets, fountains and missiles, can be legally purchased from licensed wholesalers or manufacturers, but it is illegal to discharge these fireworks in Ohio.

- THE LAW: When purchasing these items, an affidavit must be signed stating that the fireworks will be taken to a designated out-of-state address. Ohio residents must take these fireworks out of the state within 48 hours, and out-of-state residents must do so within 72 hours.

- PENALTIES: Under Ohio’s fireworks law, stiff penalties can be applied for the illegal possession or discharge of fireworks. It is a first-degree misdemeanor for non-licensed individuals to discharge fireworks in Ohio, to falsify an application when purchasing fireworks, or to possess them for more than 48 or 72 hours without taking them to the designated out-of-state address. First-time offenders are subject to a $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

- DANGERS: All fireworks are inherently dangerous. Even novelty fireworks can cause serious injuries, including severe burns, injuries to the hands, eyes and face, blindness and hearing loss. For example, sparklers burn at up to 1,800 degrees, hot enough to melt gold. Most fireworks require a source of ignition, creating other hazards associated with supplying children with matches or lighters. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a show by a licensed exhibitor.

Source: The Ohio Department of Commerce

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