2009-07-02 / Front Page

USA Still Celebrates "Rockets Red Glare''

For many, fireworks top the list of weekend celebrations
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

Business was brisk on Sunday as shoppers flooded the parking lot at Phantom Fireworks in Warfordsburg. Although, by law Pennsylvania residents cannot shop in the store, out-of-state customers provided plenty of business for both the store and for several outside food vendors. Business was brisk on Sunday as shoppers flooded the parking lot at Phantom Fireworks in Warfordsburg. Although, by law Pennsylvania residents cannot shop in the store, out-of-state customers provided plenty of business for both the store and for several outside food vendors. As the July 4th holiday approaches, American citizens often include fireworks celebrations in their holiday plans. Whether it's a small backyard display of sparklers, firecrackers and toy cannons or a trip to a larger display of roman candles, motherlodes, rain of fire, aerial repeaters or radical recoils, pyrotechnics with their colored flames and sparks, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and silver have been delighting Americans since the earliest settlers enjoyed them long before the Revolutionary War. Then in 1789, George Washington's inauguration was celebrated with a fireworks display.

Fireworks were originally invented in ancient China in the 12th century to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder. Today, China still exports 90-95 percent of all fireworks consumed in the United States. In 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans consumed at total of 265.5 million pounds of fireworks - 238.6 million pounds for individual consumers and 26.9 million pounds for professional displays.

American households spend more than $420 million a year on fireworks, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. And that figure doesn't include the amount of money private and government organizations pay for public shows.

It is believed that fireworks were originally used to celebrate the new year, but their largest use has evolved into July 4th celebrations in this country.

Although fireworks fascinate all - from the smallest child to their grandparents and beyond, there are also dangerous aspects to fireworks that have resulted in their regulation through the years.

Although Fulton County is home to Phantom Fireworks, Pennsylvania citizens are not permitted to shop in the retail store located in Warfordsburg just off I-70. Pennsylvania laws restrict its citizens to only buying "sparklers, toy pistols or other devices in which paper caps are used that contain .25 grains or less of explosive compound, and are constructed so the hand cannot come into contact with the cap when in place for the explosion. Also permitted are toy cannons that operate on the principle of mixing calcium carbide, weighing less that 1/10th ounce and water in the reservoir of the cannon, and in which ignition results upon the creation of a spark." Exceptions may be made for those who have a Pennsylvania fireworks permit. Phantom sells 1.4G or consumer fireworks. Fireworks used in large professional displays are categorized as 1.3G fireworks or display fireworks.

Other than for those with a permit, fireworks specifically prohibited in Pennsylvania include any combustible or explosive composition prepared for the purpose of producing a visible or an audible effect by combustion, explosion, deflagration or detonation. This includes, but is not limited to skyrockets, roman candles, aerial fireworks, or other fireworks of like construction, and any fireworks containing any explosive or flammable compound.

Phantom Fireworks, a Youngstown, Ohio, company and a subsidiary of the BJ Alan Co., opened in Warfordsburg in June 2004. Phantom operates the largest chain of retail consumer fireworks sales showrooms in the country and while not the largest importer of fireworks in the country certainly ranks in the top three.

According to William A. Weimer, vice president and general counsel for the company, "the Fulton County showroom does very well due to its strategic location on the highway system. Sales were down somewhat last year when gasoline prices were so high, because the Fulton County showroom is so much of a 'destination location' showroom. Hopefully with gasoline prices down this year, the showroom will pick up the business that it lost last year."

Weimer commented on the country's economic woes, saying, "There is probably not a single business in the country that has not been affected in some way by the economic downturn, and the fireworks business is no different. We have the same wage, rent, banking, insurance, supply and logistics issues all other retailers face. We see positive signs and feel that recovery is just right around the corner."

As for specific sales at the Warfordsburg store, Weimer said, "The biggest sellers are definitely the 500-gram aerial repeaters and the assortments. The 500- gram aerial repeaters have the most pyrotechnic composition permitted by federal law. While these products are not as powerful and do not go as high as the professional fireworks, they do give the closest representa- tion to a professional fireworks display of all of the consumer fireworks items we sell."

Business was brisk enough at the Warfordsburg store this past weekend to have several food vendors set up in the expansive parking lot.

When asked about Pennsylvania laws prohibiting citizens from shopping the Fulton County store, Weimer said, "While we are not actively engaged in any lobbying effort to change the Pennsylvania law, we do support change. The products are better and safer, the fireworks-related injury rates are down, and there is no longer the necessity of 'protecting' Pennsylvanians from the use of consumer fireworks. The fireworks-related injuries are going down, and we hope people will continue to use good common sense in using the products so the injuries can continue to be reduced. You should have a designated shooter of fireworks just like you have a designated driver at social events. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Keep children a safe distance from the products. Follow the basis safety rules and you will have a great family celebration with fireworks," he advised.

This year, Keystone Fireworks, a Lancaster, Pa., company, has erected a tent in the Penn's Village Plaza parking lot and is selling the .25 grains or less fireworks at that location. Believed to be the first tent fireworks retail salespoint ever in Fulton County, the tent opened for business last Thursday evening and will remain open until July 5. Fulton County's fireworks tent is just one of more than 250 tent outlets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia operated by Keystone. While business appeared to be slow on Sunday, employees at the tent say they believe business will pick up in the days leading up to Independence Day.

For sparkler enthusiasts, usually the youngest among us, they are the one item that likely comes from the United States rather than from importing. Diamond Sparklers of Youngstown, Ohio, is the sole remaining operating sparkler manufacturing facility in the United States. During its peak manufacturing season, Diamond's production capabilities reach approximately 800,000 sparklers per day.

Diamond's sparklers are not limited to use for holidays such as July 4th or New Year's, but are used year round for weddings, birthday parties and other festive occasions. Diamond was featured on the Discovery Channel's "How It's Made" series earlier this year.

Diamond is also owned and operated by the B.J. Alan Co., the owner of Phantom Fireworks.

One of the area's most impressive fireworks displays is held annually at Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md. This year it will be held on Saturday, July 4, and although many make it an all-day outing, the fireworks display begins at 9:45 p.m. and is accompanied by a patriotic concert and firing of the battlefield cannons.

In Chambersburg, the annual Independence Day fireworks display will be held at Memorial Park on Saturday, July 4, at dusk.

Whether you prefer red, orange, yellow, white, green, purple, silver or the difficult-toachieve blue colors that light up your summer nights and whether you revel in comets, waterfalls, mines or bottle rockets, this weekend will once again be the season of "oohs and aahs" for the many American families who still celebrate "the rocket's red glare."

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