New Jersey residents make annual trek to Pennsylvania to buy fireworks

By Danielle Nelson

*This story is posted on The Express Times website.

grocery shopping

Adam Kostenbader, left, 11, and his mother, Marianne Kostenbader, both of Bethlehem Township, Pa., shop Sunday for fireworks at the Keystone Fireworks stand on Freemansburg Avenue near 11th Street in Bethlehem Township. (Express-Times Photo | MATT SMITH)


In the parking lots of stores like Sky King Fireworks in Williams Township, New Jersey drivers can be seen exiting the store and putting fireworks in their trunks.

Yet, while New Jersey residents can buy fireworks in Pennsylvania, back home it is illegal to sell, use and transport fireworks without a permit.

One New Jersey resident, who did not want to be identified because of the law, said fireworks on the Fourth of July are a family tradition.

“We do it every year,” the resident said. “It’s for entertainment. After we eat, in the night we are going to pop them off.”

The risk is worth it, said another New Jersey resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the nearby TNT Fireworks Supercenter. It is one of three fireworks warehouse stores off Pennsylvania’s closest Interstate 78 exit to New Jersey.

“I don’t see anything bad about fireworks,” he said. “They should legalize it in New Jersey like they do in PA.”

Enforcing state laws

Jeff Bell, manager at Phantom Fireworks, said every customer’s identification is checked at the door. Customers are then given a Pennsylvania transportation permit, which allows them to drive with fireworks for 24 hours.

Pennsylvanians are allowed inside, but only in areas limited to ground and handheld displays that shoot sparks, emit smoke and make noise — similar to those available at pop-up roadside stands.

“If you are a PA resident and over the age of 18 then you are permitted to shop in one of our aisles that only has the PA legal items in it,” Bell said. The checkout system also prevents Pennsylvania residents from buying illegal products.

Pennsylvania law allows residents to buy the more serious fireworks, but only with a permit issued by the municipality where they will be shot off.

“Once we get the permit, then PA residents can purchase whatever they would like in a store,” Bell said. “An out-of-state resident just needs to be over the age of 18 and have valid ID and they can purchase whatever they like inside the storeroom.”

The permit available in New Jersey is also issued at the municipal level but only to organizations like fire departments.

2,000-degree sparklers

Experts caution against bending the rules to celebrate the nation’s birthday with fireworks. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 240 people on average go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around Independence Day.

Not even sparklers are safe, according to the commission; sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees, hot enough to melt some metals.

“The wires can be red hot for kids,” Bethlehem fire Chief Robert Novatnack said.

He urges: “Leave the fireworks displays to the professionals.”

According to Warren County fire Marshal Joe Lake: “Common sense is the thing.”

“Keep them away from kids. Don’t be brave enough to hold it in your hands or your limbs will be blown off, and that is why it is illegal.”

Over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, New Jersey State Police will be on the lookout for the use of fireworks.

“If we get a tip or a word on it or we get called out to the scene or if someone says there is noise complaint, we will basically just enforce the law,” a New Jersey State Police spokesperson said.

In New Jersey, possession of fireworks is a misdemeanor, but with the intent to sell, it can cost residents a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Pennsylvania penalties range from a summary offense fine of up to $100 on up to a third-degree felony.

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