UPDATE: This story was updated with additional information on permit requirements.
Pennsylvanians cannot purchase aerial fireworks in the state. That's the law. Except, there's a loophole.
The common belief is that if you live in Pennsylvania, you are forever limited to buying sparklers while out-of-state people cross the border and buy the good stuff -- the bottle rockets, roman candles and aerial displays. However, getting a little-known permit signed in your municipality opens your firework options.
The permit, which can be found on fireworks stores' websites, allows Pennsylvania residents to purchase and use what are known as "1.4G consumer fireworks" for personal displays. Those are the fireworks that we typically think of -- the loud, colorful ones that fly into the air.
Aside from getting the permit signed, municipalities are also allowed to inspect the display site and require the posting of a bond of at least $500 for any possible damages.
Brian Shaub, co-owner of Keystone Fireworks, said a lot of people don't know there is a permit available to them. Get the permit signed by a local government representative and you'll be able to buy whatever fireworks are available to everyone else.
There is a catch, however. Many municipalities don't know the permits exists or how to execute them.
Permitting problems in Pennsylvania
There is no universal or state-approved fireworks permit. They can be found most easily on fireworks companies websites -- like Keystone Fireworks.
Every municipality has a different process or a different person who is responsible for reviewing firework purchase and display permits. For some municipalities, a fire or police chief has to sign off. In others, it's the code enforcement officer.
"Pretty much any representative of the township can issue or sign the permit," Shaub said.
Spectators gather to watch fireworks after an Islanders game at City Island on Saturday, July 4 2015. Emily Kask, PennLive
But problems arise when you begin contacting municipalities to get the permit signed.
Calls to several midstate municipalities asking about the permits proved fruitless. Many had never even heard of the permit and had no idea who would need to review and sign it.
Requests were bounced around to parks departments, police chiefs, fire chiefs, code enforcement officers and more.
Camp Hill code enforcer Chris Miller said he'd never heard of the permit and no one had ever requested one signed in the borough in the during his 20-plus years of service.
After doing some research, Miller learned about the permit and determined that the Camp Hill fire marshall, deputy fire marshall or police chief could sign off on the permit. Miller is the borough's deputy fire marshall.
Informing officials and getting your permit signed
Howard Fry, president of the Pennsylvania Pyrotechnic Artists, said it's pretty common to run into officials that have never heard of the permit. That's because very few people ever use the permits.
Most municipalities, he said, don't know who would be responsible for signing the permit. So that means that the person with the permit has to try to educate officials about the permitting process, which could get tricky.
It's a very tight wire that people have to walk on in order to get their permit signed, Fry said.
"As an ordinary citizen, you have to tell someone in charge what the rules are," Fry said. "And they usually don't like hearing what the rules are."
Fry said he can't recall a member of his club ever being turned down for a permit in Pennsylvania over the last 20 years.
Changing the law
In 1939, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law prohibiting Pennsylvanians from buying fireworks. Eventually the law was amended to allow out-of-state residents to purchase fireworks in Pennsylvania and in-state residents to buy fireworks that remain on the ground.
The law, maddening to some Keystone residents, may be changing.
A bill in the Pennsylvania Senate would end the prohibition and allow Pennsylvanians to purchase aerial fireworks. The bill, SB1055, stalled in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in 2015.
Sen. Donald C. White, R-Indiana County, said he introduced the bill because he recognized the "absurdity of our current fireworks law." Currently, White said, Pennsylvanians have to jump through administrative hurdles to use fireworks for private displays in their local municipalities.
Representatives from emergency services and medical organizations have argued against the bill.
Donald Konkle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Service Institute, said in February that fireworks are too dangerous and their use should not be expanded.
White said he's optimistic about the future of the bill.
"[Sen. Elder A. Vogel Jr., Sen. Gene Yaw and I] have been engaged with the stakeholders surrounding this legislation and we are moving toward a product to move our current law into the 21st century," White said.