CLEARFIELD – On Oct. 3, 2017, “Class C,” or “consumer-grade,” fireworks became legal for purchase by Pennsylvania residents.
The fireworks, which were previously available only to out-of-state residents, include “firecrackers, Roman Candles, bottle rockets and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material,” according to literature from the Pennsylvania State Police.
Firework law changes, including the new access to consumer fireworks, have changed aspects of the business for good and bad, according to Joyce Knepp of Kneppy’s Fireworks.
Kneppy’s Fireworks was founded Feb. 1, 1998, and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of business.
Knepp says that the law changes have been good for business in one way, because people are definitely buying more fireworks, but there have also been some negatives, as well.
“It has definitely perked the interest” in sales, she said. “…We probably have twice as many people come in … of course twice as many people means twice as much sales.”
She estimates that “fireworks sales throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania more than likely” will double, and she also thinks that other company owners would agree.
However, there are a few negatives for business owners that have accompanied the changes.
“When the laws changed, it also changed how tent sales are made,” Knepp explained. Kneppy’s Fireworks has two tents and one stand this year, which is down from previous years.
The owners now have to purchase a license to run the tent, which costs the company more money. It is around $4,000 just to have the tent, so Knepp says “we have to pick and choose what areas we think are going to make the most money.”
According to Knepp, tents can make roughly $10,000. Now with the licensing costs, her old number of tents would’ve cost $20,000 just to start, so they are no longer putting tents in smaller areas.
Along with business changes, there is also an increased need for safety education, as individuals are buying new types of fireworks.
Speaking generally of fireworks, Knepp says “there’s a lot of safety issues … in my opinion.”
She adds that, “Firework laws actually incorporate different safety aspects, and if you break one of the safety aspects, you’re actually breaking the law.”
Knepp feels that the law involves “taking many common sense things and turning that into the law.” For example, drinking and shooting fireworks and shooting fireworks at animals, people, homes or cars, are some of those natural things to avoid, and are also illegal.
According to Knepp, the two most important things in firework safety are distance (how far you are away from something when using fireworks) and common courtesy.
She feels having the right distance from which to set off fireworks and combining that with common sense and courtesy towards ones’ neighbors will help avoid most problems.
The law says that fireworks “cannot be discharged within 150 feet of an occupied structure” and as Knepp puts it, “you’ve got to have elbow room.”
Knepp also says being mindful of neighbors and watching things like the time of day at which you are setting off the fireworks can also help, as it may prevent you from breaking local ordinance laws, even if you aren’t specifically breaking state fire work laws.
Knepp and her staff try to make people aware of safety concerns and she hopes that people will take the time to learn.
“We offered safety classes when we did our demo,” she said. “Unfortunately, I hate to say it but they were not very well-attended.”
She says that they do have people who come who have not used certain fireworks before, and they don’t always take the time to learn safe usage, which could lead to accidents.
“We have people come who have never shot certain stuff before,” Knepp said. “People really need to be educated on it.”
Knepp and her staff try to take the time if the store is not super busy and take five to 10 minutes to go through the basic steps with a customer.
When they can instruct people briefly on “the basic steps needed to know how to shoot a firework correctly,” they try to do so and also hand out safety brochures. Between the verbal instruction and brochures, she feels customers get a good start.
After running the business for 20 years, along with her husband Henry, Knepp certainly knows what she’s talking about.
Kneppy’s also knows how to celebrate. For the anniversary occasion, they did an extra special fireworks demo for their customers, and even tried a couple of fireworks displays they’d never done.
Knepp says they invited a group of professional pyrotechnics from the state of New York to come down and put on a pyro-musical, which incorporated a unique firework effect called “Mexican Castillo,” for Cinco de Mayo, which she says was a really unique event.
Aside from cool fireworks, Knepp really enjoys getting to know the customers.
“I’ve always been a people person,” she said. People wouldn’t have thought this about her when she was a teenager because she was very shy. However, working in the restaurant and fireworks businesses for a long time has made her really enjoy people.
She started out in the restaurant business where she had to talk a lot, and has enjoyed it ever since.
“It’s just been a wonderful journey ever since, and this has been like 45 years. I’m a people person, I love people … I love being with them.”
Knepp loves when customers come in whose families having been coming in since they were as young as 4 or 5 years old, and are now bringing in their own children.
“Now they are 20-something years old, and they’re bringing their 4-, 5-, 6- and 7-year-old kids here,” she said.
Knepp especially loves hearing the stories of how they came in with their mom and dad, and are now continuing the family tradition. It reminds her of a time when Kneppy’s would put out signs, hailing fireworks as an American tradition, and a family tradition, and to Knepp, it truly is.
“They like to come in the fireworks store as a family,” she said, “and I love that.”
To keep you and your family safe this summer, check out a list of firework safety tips on Kneppy’s Web site and the Pennsylvania State Police’s rules on Consumer Grade fireworks.