consumer fireworks

A fully-restocked aisle in one of the Northstar Fireworks locations.

Skies across the country will be a little-less colorful this time of year compared to those in the past with many municipalities cancelling their annual fireworks displays.

While there’s always people who enjoy the thrill of shooting off their own, it’s ever-more likely this weekend that the public will take it upon itself to celebrate the holiday with displays in their backyards.

Northstar Fireworks, a distributor with locations in East Montpelier and St. Johnsbury, usually provides about 120 cities and towns with the supplies needed for professional-level firework displays during the Fourth of July -- including Essex and others from Chittenden and Franklin County. This year, however, it only has 15-such customers.

That’s not to say that the stores haven’t been busy, though, as they’ve seen a tremendous increase in consumer sales with families turning to backyard displays. Director of Marketing and Retail Richard Swenson said they have seen a considerable increase compared to years past with approximately 85 percent of customers being new clientele. With nearly 40 years of being in business, Swenson said he doesn’t think the company has ever been so busy.

The Essex Police Department (EPD) routinely gets a lot of calls around the holiday -- many being because of noise disturbances or because animals aren’t reacting well to the fireworks. EPD Captain Ron Hoague thinks that the department will see even more this year in light of the fact that people don’t have the opportunity to see their town’s usual production.

“I'm suspecting that there’s a considerable amount of fireworks that people have purchased and are going to be setting off at their house and parties,” said Hoague. “So, we're prepared for that. Hopefully people do the right thing and are considerate of other neighbors, but generally that's not the case.”

Setting off personal fireworks can also be dangerous -- and illegal.

In the State of Vermont, it’s illegal to shoot off fireworks without a permit -- except for sparklers and what the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Fire Safety calls “novelty smoke devices.” Sparklers must be less than 14-inches long with no more than 20 grams of pyrotechnic mixture; novelty sparkling items -- such as snakes, party poppers, glow worms, and string poppers -- can’t have more than 0.25 grains of explosive mixture and must be in compliance with United States Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations.

Swenson said it’s about 85-90 percent of Northstar’s sales that fit into the category of not requiring a permit. The remaining percentile, however, faces the possibility of legal repercussions if not possessing the necessary approval.

Each violation is a misdemeanor and can carry a $100 fine, 30 days in jail, or both. However, Hoague says it’s difficult to enforce the statute unless the reporting call can identify an exact residence and that officers can then observe the acts in question.

“[Unless] we can actually see the fireworks right there in front of us, we're not going to be taking any action other than having a conversation with the owner of the home and reminding them that they’re not to be doing those types of things -- and that they could be charged if they were found in possession of them. So we do a lot more educating,” he said.

While bigger fireworks can easily cause harm to those lighting them and those nearby -- as well as being dangerous to property -- even the smaller types which don’t require permits can easily create injuries.

The University of Vermont (UVM) Health Network says that sparklers can burn at 2,000 degrees -- a temperature hot enough to melt metal, catch clothes on fire, or cause serious burns.

“We want your summer memories to be happy ones!” said Abby Beerman, injury prevention coordinator at UVM Medical Center. “Make sure they don’t include a trip to our trauma center. Being mindful of potential dangers can limit your risk for injuries and burns this Fourth of July.”

While EPD acknowledges that people shooting off fireworks is likely to happen, it asks the public to be courteous of fellow citizens.

“Anyone who plans to do it should respect their neighbors,” said Hoague. “Respect that there are other people who may not find the joy in fireworks that they do. There are people with PTSD and those types of things that other folks should be considerate of. That's what we would ask for.”

Swenson echoed that sentiment, saying Northstar tells its customers to “just be smart, and follow the laws.”

Hoague said that anyone looking to report backyard fireworks is asked to call the station directly at 802-878-8331 and not to call 9-1-1 unless there is an emergency where harm or fire is potentially involved.

Nearby firework displays are still scheduled for Fairfax and Milton.

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