By Walt Frank
As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day tomorrow, fireworks dealers are wrapping up their busiest time of the year.
Mirror photo illustration by Elizabeth Franks and Tom Worthington II
Ron Kizer of Philipsburg checks out the big “five gram” fireworks at Kneppy’s Fireworks on East Pleasant Valley Boulevard on Wednesday.
"The closer you get to the Fourth of July, the busier we get," said Joyce Knepp, president of Kneppy's Fireworks. "I would say sales for the Fourth of July make up about 80 percent of our business, especially at our location in Winburne (Clearfield County)."
William A. Weimer, vice president of Youngstown, Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said the days leading up to Independence Day are always busy ones.
"We do 95 percent of our annual sales between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July," Weimer said.
Along with Kneppy's and Phantom, Lancaster-based Keystone Fireworks and TNT Fireworks, headquartered in Florence, Ala., also have sales tents in the Altoona area.
"We have about 350 locations from Rhode Island to North Carolina; we are all over the place," Keystone owner Brian Shaub said.
According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, fireworks have never been more popular or more in demand. The use of fireworks skyrocketed from 152.2 million pounds in 2000 to more than 213.9 million pounds in 2009, the latest figures available from the association.
The association attributes the significant increase in usage to an upsurge in patriotism, as fireworks are historically a symbol of American independence, and to an overall improvement in the quality and variety available today for the consumer market. Additionally, more states than ever before - 46 states plus the District of Columbia - allow the sale and use of some types of consumer fireworks.
"It is just a traditional thing like Christmas. Despite tough times, we do what we have to do to celebrate," Knepp said.
"The products are safer today than they have ever been, but you must respect the fact you are playing with fire," Weimer said.
The fireworks-related injury rate has fallen by more than 90 percent from 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used in 1976, to 3.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds in 2008.
"I can't think of one other consumer product that has achieved such record-breaking growth, yet experienced such a sharp decline in injuries," Julie L. Heckman, APA executive director, said.
The state Department of Agriculture licenses and monitors sales of fireworks in Pennsylvania.
"We sell what we call 'safe and sane' items. These include things like fountains, smoke items, sparklers, spinners and toy novelties," Knepp said.
Weimer explained that fountains sit on the ground, shoot 6 to 10 feet into the air and shoot various colors.
"They are phenomenal with the different effects," he said. "They are pretty amazing."
Pennsylvania residents can purchase fireworks known as 1.4 G fireworks - rockets, mortars, roman candles and firecrackers - from a properly licensed permanent facility that has obtained a special permit from their municipality, city, borough or township office.
In a nutshell, ground-based fireworks are legal in Pennsylvania. Bottle rockets and firecrackers or things that go up in the air and make a bang are not permitted without a permit.
"More municipalities today are issuing permits because there is a smarter public," Weimer said.
The fireworks business has become very competitive.
"Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and it's a great way to make money," Knepp said.
The best advice when using fireworks is to use common sense.
"Respect the fact these products burn. You have to play with fire to make them work. They are for children to watch and not touch. Clean out the area where you will put them off and have a source of water nearby," Weimer said. "It is all common sense."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.