Council advances bill to impose steep fireworks fines

Councilman David Oh is pushing a bill to increase enforcement of fireworks-related violations.

City Council advanced legislation Tuesday that may make it easier for authorities to enforce restrictions on fireworks, after a summer which, according to many residents, featured a record amount of explosions.

The bill would designate using fireworks after 9 p.m. as a noise violation under the health section of the city’s code, allowing for fines of up to $300 on a first offense, said Councilman David Oh, who introduced the ordinance.

Residents have long complained about how the explosives trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, upset pets, sound like gunshots and disrupt the sleep of infants and others.

Over the past several months, usage increased, and people in some sections of the city said they were dealing with the effects on a nightly basis.

“We have many people in the neighborhood who suffer from PTSD associated with the sounds of gunshots and other loud noises,” Chris Spahr said during a virtual hearing on the bill. “We have terrified children and working people who can’t sleep at night due to the noise.”

Spahr, who is the executive director of the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation in West Philadelphia, said it’s believed that fireworks caused a blaze that significantly damaged two historic buildings in the neighborhood.

A resident who testified at the meeting said an athletic field near his house has been set on fire multiple times due to fireworks.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass commented that the frequency of firework-related blasts has made some parts of the city feel like a “war zone.”

Under state law, the city has limited ability to regulate fireworks, Oh said. Consumer fireworks were legalized in 2017 in Philadelphia after legislation passed in Harrisburg.

Currently, the city fire code prohibits the use of consumer fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure or under power lines and trees. The devices are also not allowed to be deployed on public or private property without written permission.

In addition, powerful fireworks, known as Class M, are banned in Philadelphia.

Oh’s proposal, which would not apply to federal holidays, like the Fourth of July, could impose stricter penalties for those violations, with an escalating series of tickets ranging from $100 to $700 for repeat offenders.

Fire Capt. Julian Sellers, who spoke at the meeting, said enforcing restrictions has been challenging, as most city-employed inspectors aren’t working overnight.

“I would imagine that there would have to be police integration into this,” he said. “It probably will involve multiple agencies, not just L&I and not just the fire department.”

Oh said the rules would be enforced by police, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Licenses and Inspections. It would be considered a civil violation, so officers would not be making arrests, he said.

“People want to have enforcement, and I think this is something that will help,” Oh said.

The bill passed out of committee without incident Tuesday and could receive a final vote as soon as Oct. 22.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would sign the proposal.