Future of recreational fireworks unknown because of COVID-19

It could be a quiet Fourth of July this year, as firework shows across the nation have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of skies will be dark in a lot of municipalities,” said Stephen Vitale, CEO of Pyrotecnico, a fireworks company based in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

His company does firework shows around the world, but so far this year, Vitale said, they’ve seen a 70 percent cancelation rate, which is on par for the entire industry.

“This pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for the fireworks industry,” Vitale said, noting that the majority of their season happens from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “A lot of communities are looking for other dates to do these celebrations. People need what we do. They are going to want a reason to celebrate.”

The company’s marketing brand manager, Geoffrey Abraham, said that while their numbers are down, they are looking into creative ways for municipalities to still have a show, like staging them at drive-in theaters.

“Fireworks are something we can do in a socially distant, safe way too,” he said. “We’re working with drive-ins across the country about what we could do.

“Who would have thought we’d be talking about drive-in theaters in 2020?” he added. “We want people to enjoy fireworks one way or another.”

Abraham said that the company wants people to adhere to CDC guidelines on social distancing while still being able to celebrate the Fourth of July in the traditional way with a fireworks show. A fourth without fireworks would be a “sad and unfortunate thing,” Abraham said.

“We’re all looking for things to celebrate right now,” he said. “There are very few holidays that we feel as passionate about as fireworks on the Fourth of July. We’re going to think of ways to make these shows still happen.”

Winchester, Virginia, canceled its municipal show weeks ago, according to Lynn Miller, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.

“We’re disappointed that the situation was such that we felt we had to consider the cancelation,” he said. “We were not going to take a chance on having a large gathering of people. The location doesn’t allow people to spread out and maintain social distancing.”

Miller said their show typically draws several thousand people. They didn’t take the decision lightly, and even searched for other locations to have it, he said.

“It was in the best interest from a safety perspective to cancel this year,” he said.

In the Altoona area of Pennsylvania, DelGrosso’s Amusement Park has the largest Fourth of July fireworks show. The park announced recently that it will remain closed for the season due to the pandemic, which also means the fireworks show will be canceled, according to Amy Mearkle, the park’s director of marketing and events.

“It’s a huge impact to our region,” Mearkle said. “That’s one of our largest days at the park. We had people here from 49 states last year. We have visitors make this their tradition to watch the show every year. It’s a huge heartbreak for our guests.”

In Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the Fourth of July celebration is the largest in the region, with the longest parade in the state. This year, that celebration was canceled along with the fireworks show.

Canonsburg Mayor Dave Rhome said that even though the show is canceled, the launching of fireworks should still be left to the professionals. He’s worried that folks inexperienced with fireworks could get injured or use them unsafely.

“We’ve already anticipated that’s going to happen,” Rhome said. “We see so many accidents year in and year out of people getting burned or losing eyes or fingers. The safety is what we have to stress — these things are dangerous.”

Rhome said that launching fireworks is illegal within the borough limits, and they may consider putting additional police officers on patrol during the holiday.

Public safety officials in Washington, Pennsylvania, said they too expect people to celebrate with fireworks in their backyards. Police Chief Robert Wilson said his department usually has additional patrol out for the Fourth of July.

Washington fire chief Gerald Coleman said residents need to be reminded which fireworks are legal and which are not in Pennsylvania. He also said people should be careful especially in communities with houses that are close together.

“The last thing you want to do is burn the roof off your neighbor’s house because you wanted to make the Fourth of July special,” he said.

While the fireworks show in Parkersburg, West Virginia hasn’t been canceled yet, police chief Joe Martin said that if it does get canceled, he too would anticipate an increase of people using fireworks at home.

“It’s hard to predict but that’s a pretty safe assumption,” he said. “The more availability of those types of fireworks, the more they will be sold and purchased.”

Phantom Fireworks, headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio, deals with consumer fireworks across the nation, between retail stores and seasonal tent sales. With many municipal shows being canceled, they’re anticipating a “higher demand,” according to their director of government affairs, Dan Peart.

They implemented online ordering capabilities to ensure they will be able to keep up with that demand, he said.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while and I would say that this pandemic has accelerated our rollout of that platform,” Peart said. “We want to make sure we’re able to provide every possible outlet for people.”

He added that as their stores are allowed to open in less restrictive states, they’re already getting customers and selling gift cards.

“People are noticing the same thing about their municipal shows getting canceled,” Peart said.

As people stock up on their products, he said they also receive education and safety tips on how to use those products. He said they have a safety tab on their website along with a YouTube channel that has videos on how to use each of their products, “what to expect and the best practices and safety guides.”

“We’re confident that people are educated in what they’re buying and how to use it,” he said.

By Patricia Older

Leave a Reply