When is a firework not a firework?
Let’s take that question apart, shall we? Things may have gotten a bit murky in the past month, with the newly legalized sale of some types of pyrotechnic devices in Delaware.
Those colorful displays popping up in area stores, with all manner of sparklers or other things on sticks that light up and might even make popping or whistling noises — those are not “fireworks,” at least as far as Delaware law is concerned.
Those items are, however, now legal for sale in Delaware, for the first time. As of May 10, with the passage of House Bill 53, those types of pyrotechnics can be sold for limited periods of time, and may be used on just two days of the year — July 4 and Dec. 31. The items may only be sold during the 30 days prior to each of those dates, and only to people 18 or older.
Under Delaware law, these “non-fireworks” that are now legal to use on two days of the year include devices that are “wood stick or wire sparklers which produce a shower of sparks upon ignition and which consist of wire or stick coated with not more than 100 grams of pyrotechnic mixture per item; other hand-held or ground-based sparking devices which are non-explosive and non-aerial, (and) which sometimes produce a crackling or whistling effect…” That includes “snakes” and “glow worms” and smaller ground-based “fountains,” as well as cap guns.
According to current Delaware law, the term “fireworks” applies only to a device that explodes or combusts or detonates or shoots into the air. Some examples of the still-banned fireworks include items labeled as firecrackers, rockets, torpedoes, Roman candles and fire balloons.
A permit is still required to shoot those off, and that process falls under the purview of the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Delaware State Police spokesperson MCpl. Melissa Jaffe said the state police will be patrolling key areas during the Independence Day holiday period, to ensure the newly sparkler-tolerant law is still being followed.
“While firework celebrations are certainly more prevalent this time of year,” Jaffe said, “DSP will remain vigilant, and enforcement actions will be taken when necessary.”
“The Delaware State Police’s main concern is the safety and welfare of our citizens,” she said.
While the website of the Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal as of June 27 did link to the updated section of state law (Title 16, Chapter 69), the site’s statement on fireworks had not been updated and still listed sparklers as illegal, stating that only regulated public fireworks displays are permitted.
Reiterating the stringent warnings the office has traditionally sent out annually before the Fourth of July holiday, their statement on fireworks still points out that fireworks of any kind carry some danger.
“They are as unpredictable as the weather,” the statement says.
Sparklers, for example, burn as hot as 2,000 degrees F, and are the most common source of fireworks-related injuries, especially for kids. Fireworks-caused fires also remain a concern for the area’s firefighters.
The new Delaware regulations allowing limited use and sale of ground-type and hand-held pyrotechnics expire on May 10, 2021. Delaware now joins 40 other states in which these types of devices are legal. Massachusetts is now the only state in which all consumer fireworks are illegal, while Illinois, Ohio and Vermont permit only sparklers and similar novelty items.
So for those who have already purchased the things in those colorful boxes now greeting customers at entrances to many local stores — yes, they’re legal. Yes, this is new. And, yes, they’re only legal to use on July 4. The next chance to use them will be New Year’s Eve.
Happy Independence Day, Delaware! Let’s be careful out there.
By Kerin Magill