With community displays canceled, people look to launch fireworks on own

  • Twins Miah (left), and Serena Munro who help stock the shelves at Champny’€™s Fireworks on Route 3A in Bow carry out some of the fireworks to the main store on Thursday. The store has seen an uptick in sales since most cities and towns have canceled their Fourt of July fireworks this year.

  • Sales stocker Anthony Celenza re-stocks the shelves with fireworks at Champny’€™s Fireworks on Route 3A in Bow on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Serena Munro (left), and Anthony Celenza, both staff at Champny’€™s Fireworks on Route 3A in Bow work on keeping fireworks in stock on Thursday.

  • Fireworks display at Memorial Field as seen from the Brown Building on the State Archives grounds on the 4th of July in 2019. The 2020 fireworks display for Concord and many other cities and towns have been canceled due to concerns of large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Geoff Forester photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/20/2020 1:53:26 PM

Following the decision to cancel Fourth of July fireworks in most communities this year, many residents may be taking their colorful pyrotechnic displays into their own hands. 

More residential fireworks shows means a potential increase in injury, fire danger and noise complains, but safety officials say they are not any more concerned than usual.

Cities across the state, including Concord, have called off their annual fireworks shows and other public events as they weather the coronavirus pandemic.

State Fire Marshal Paul Parisi said New Hampshire had 104 fireworks shows scheduled in 2019, but only 34 on the books for 2020. Roughly two-thirds of those scheduled for this year took place before the pandemic.

This may leave residents eager for their own backyard celebrations, he said.

“Anecdotally, we are anticipating that there will be a larger number of people that are going to put on their own fireworks shows,” Parisi said.

Retail fireworks intended for the general public, known as consumer fireworks, are distinct from display fireworks, which are used in professional shows. Generally, consumer fireworks have less explosive power.

For Concord residents, purchasing consumer fireworks is fairly easy: the last state-level restrictions were lifted in 2018, when the state legislature legalized bottle and sky rockets. Now, licensed dealers in New Hampshire can sell any consumer fireworks legal on the federal level. Some cities impose additional regulations, such as when and where fireworks may be used, but Concord does not. 

Steve Pelke, CEO of fireworks company Atlas PyroVision, said the pandemic was a curve ball to the fireworks industry.

“When the pandemic hit, all bets were off, and everyone had to kind of quickly reevaluate how they were going to do business,” he said.

 Atlas makes about 70% of its annual revenue putting on shows for corporations and municipalities — including Concord — and the other 30% from consumer fireworks sales. But having a hand in both display and consumer fireworks is unusual for the industry, Pelke said. Most companies specialize in one or the other — so in terms of profits, other fireworks companies may be having a very different year.

To pad losses brought on by an unprecedented number of show cancellations, Atlas is making adjustments to bolster its retail sales. The company redesigned its website so customers can order fireworks online for curbside pickup, for example. So far, it has seen a 25% to 30% increase in consumer fireworks sales compared to 2019, although Pelke noted it is too early to discern any significant sales trends.

Deborah Colby, owner of Champny’s Fireworks in Bow, also noted changes in purchasing habits this year. On the whole, she said, business is picking up.

“We do find that more and more people are coming in and making their purchases for fireworks earlier this year,” Colby said.

At the same time, the store is seeing fewer visits from out-of-state travelers, she said. Others simply aren’t aware the store is open yet.

Concord is already showing signs of increased firework activity, Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood said. 

“We're starting to see a lot more complaints about fireworks a lot earlier than normal,” Osgood said.

More consumer fireworks sales may mean more inexperienced residents using them. 

Pelke said  Atlas is making sure consumers consider community-level restrictions and environmental factors like backyard size before making a selection.

“We're having to have longer conversations with the customer, making sure that they don't over-purchase,” he said.

Colby said the staff at Champnys is also taking precautions to educate customers new to the industry.

“We’re happy to give detailed information to help people that are new,” she said.

Although officials said safety is always a concern when it comes to pyrotechnic devices, Osgood said he does not anticipate more fireworks-related accidents this year.

“These are explosives that can be dangerous and people have to exercise due care when handling them,” he said.

Though fireworks-related accidents are uncommon, they do happen, Interim Concord Fire Chief Guy Newberry said. Firecrackers and other handheld fireworks are the most common cause of injuries, he said, with children and teenagers being the most vulnerable to accidents.

“These are not kids’ toys. These are for adults,” Newberry said.

Parisi said he encourages all residents to buy their fireworks from a “licensed, reputable dealer within the state” and to closely read the safety instructions that come with them.

Detailed resources on fireworks safety can be found on the New Hampshire Division of Fire Safety website.

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