Officials issue warning on illegal fireworks as complaints surge

(The Center Square) – Municipalities across Illinois have canceled Fourth of July fireworks displays because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials warn against putting on your own Independence Day show.

“Firework complaints have gone up nationwide,” Stan Taylor, division chief of the Peoria Fire Department, said. “I think people are bored. They want something to do. And fireworks are an easy outlet.”

Only certain backyard, or consumer, fireworks are legal in Illinois – handheld devices like bottle rockets are not. And those that are legal must be purchased from vendors licensed by the Office of the State Fire Marshal of Illinois, which maintains a list of legal vendors on its website.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal also lists vendors licensed to put on shows of “display” fireworks, which are considered large explosives.

“The regulatory environment consists of ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] licensure and licensure with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals’ blasting and aggregate division. Those are true regulated explosives,” said Robert Wetzel, fire safety compliance manager for the Office of the State Fire Marshal. “The use of those also requires a license with us and shipment requires a license with the Dept. of Transportation as a hazardous material carrier. Anyone who deals in those (explosives) has to be licensed and approved by all four of those entities.”

Wetzel said that one of his agency’s requirements is that vendors carry insurance, whereas putting on fireworks with an unlicensed vendor can open up all sorts of liabilities.

“You’ve entered into an illegal contract – they can’t contract with you because they don’t have a license to do that. So that’s an issue,” he said. “And then if anything goes wrong, it kicks the barn door on who’s going to end up suing whom. Who’s going to be held liable? And certainly, there’s a criminal element to doing unlicensed work. They could be looking at felonies at the federal state and local levels.”

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