Mayors unite to silence the sizzle of commercial-grade fireworks

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PITTSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Next weekend, communities everywhere will celebrate our nation’s independence.

Some of those communities will rattle from the boom of commercial-grade fireworks. But some local mayors hope to spark change and stop sales of those pyrotechnics.

Before their annual Fourth of July celebration, Kathy Popeck of Bear Creek and her family stocked up on commercial-grade and other types of fireworks at a Pittston business that sells them.

“We come every year. And we like to have a picnic with the neighbors, and we just like to have a little get-together,” Popeck said.

Anyone in Pennsylvania can purchase fireworks like roman candles, bottle rockets and other aerial fireworks legally under Act 43. But the measure passed in 2017 bans use within 150 feet of an occupied structure. Some local communities just don’t have that amount of open space.

“We have a lot of houses that are close together in the city of Wilkes-Barre. And they light these off in the city, and they’re going on houses, and they’re going on porches,” Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown said.

Safety is one of the many reasons Brown and six other local mayors joined forces. They sent a letter to state lawmakers to repeal Act 43 and allow municipalities to set their own firework regulations.

Last summer, Brown’s office took nearly 400 firework complaint calls on any given weekend. Among them? One from a man in the middle of the night, pleading for help.

“He said, ‘Mayor I’m actually under my couch. It’s bringing back terrible memories.’ He said, ‘I was in Desert Storm, I was in Iraqi Freedom, I fought in these battles, it’s bringing back these terrible memories,” Brown said.

Hearing booming fireworks could be traumatic for someone suffering from PTSD, but not always, according to this Iraq and Afghanistan combat vet.

“Just because someone has PTSD does not necessarily mean they are afraid of loud noises. If someone does have PTSD, sounds, smells, sights will affect a person,” veteran Andy Chomko said.

But it’s a real battle for war vets from decades earlier.

“Going to the older era of veterans, again, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, there isn’t too many of them left, but that was where you had the intensive ground explosions, the air fights, and those were the people that I think had more of a problem with the fireworks, the explosions,” former American Legion service officer Gina Svoboda said.

Still, they can be upsetting for the elderly, kids, and pets. While it may be too late to change things this Fourth of July, the mayors hope it won’t be long before commercial-grade fireworks sales fizzle out.

Mayor Brown encourages city residents to leave the commercial grade fireworks to the pros. He says a safe way to enjoy fireworks is at the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration at Kirby Park.

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