Lebanon considering ways to regulate fireworks

Fire Safety Compliance Manager Robert Wetzel explains the permit process pertaining to the Illinois Pyrotechnic Use Act in a presentation to the Lebanon Health and Safety Committee.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon Health and Safety Committee listened to a presentation from a representative of the State Fire Marshal’s office regarding the future and current use of fireworks in Lebanon. Fire Safety Compliance Manager Robert Wetzel spoke to the committee about current policies, distinctions between pyrotechnics, fireworks and consumer products, and more. 

Wetzel provides oversight for the state’s sprinkler industry, the fire equipment industry, and the pyrotechnic and fireworks industry. “To be clear, I want to make a distinction between fireworks and pyrotechnics. When we talk about pyrotechnics, we’re talking about professionally displayed fireworks, TV and movie special effects, or arena special effects,” Wetzel said. 

Wetzel went over the different classes covered in the Illinois Pyrotechnics Use Act. Class 1 covers anything that will or might blow up. There are several subcategories. 1.1 covers military grade explosives, or those used in quarries. 1.3 covers professional pyrotechnic displays. Wetzel noted that anyone providing professional displays must have licenses through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Fire Marshal’s office. Class 1.4 is fireworks below the other threshold and managed by the Consumer Product Safety Committee. Consumer fireworks are those that are able to be used. Unregulated novelties are an even lower classification, and include sparklers, cap gun caps, cigarette loads, and more, including glow worms. Most retail stores sell the unregulated novelties, and consumers need no training or permits to use them, but local legislatures can restrict use on public property. 

“State legislature on one hand said ‘We don’t want to impede commerce, so we’ll allow sales of fireworks,’” said Wetzel, noting that his office registers those wishing to sell fireworks for $50 after successful completion of the application process. 

Applicants wanting a permit to put on a consumer display at their homes must have a permit that includes training sanctioned by the fire marshals, and the application must be applied for at least 15 days before it is to be used. 

“Until you get the permit in hand, it’s illegal to buy them, possess them, do anything with them. You have to have the permit in hand,” he explained. 

Wetzel also said that the permitted person would show their permit to the person running the fireworks tent, and then the sale would be legal, and added that Lebanon could add criminal background checks to any permits that they issued. “In order for someone to sell fireworks at the stand, they can’t do it unless the person they’re selling to already has a permit. That’s in the act. To buy them, you have to have a permit. To acquire them, you have to have a permit. And in order for someone to sell them to you legally, you have to already have the permit, otherwise someone would be selling them illegally, and the other would be purchasing them illegally,” he said. 

The permits are nontransferable, and anyone assisting with setting off the fireworks must go through the training and permit process also. Permits must also be signed by the fire chief and a city representative. Enforcement of this process and illegal sales fall onto local jurisdictions. Professional displays must also be licensed and the lead pyrotechnic must be on site. 

An audience member relayed that she had spoken with the owner of the fireworks stand in Lebanon, and was asking questions about the permits and processes. The stand owner accused her of trying to shut down all fireworks stands, and said that local police and fire departments don’t care and don’t have time to check everyone. 

Alderman Joe Diliberto, the chairman of the committee, said any lack of reinforcement, perceived or real, doesn’t relieve the owner of her obligation to be checking permits before each sale. 

In section 235.100 of the act, there are also very specific rules for space to set off consumer fireworks displays. There can be nothing within 200 feet in all directions, including spectators, buildings, and property lines, and must be clear of overhead obstructions. The space requirement adds to about a total of three acres of a round lot, or realistically four acres. Wetzel said that it’s almost impossible to meet the space requirement, and committee members agreed that there aren’t many, if any, places that qould qualify in Lebanon city limits. 

Stands selling certain arterial shells over a certain size are subject to being shut down and the shells would need to be picked up by a bomb squad. There are smaller chrysanthemum shells that fall into the consumer fireworks category, and Wetzel said some communities are even using those for community displays. 

Wetzel said he had looked at the Lebanon website for different codes, and “The best thing you could do would be to talk to partner communities and figure out how to proceed. The other thing is in your July 9 minutes, it says a state inspector inspected the stand, and said they complied. I don’t want to take issue, but I’m the only one from the state that would have inspected it, but I did not issue any reports.” Wetzel did visit the stand on July 1. 

Diliberto suggested going forward to the council and summarizing the presentation, then ask the council for a poistion on whether or not to allow continuance of the sales and whether or not to establish a permit process. The full council will meet December 17 at 7 p.m.