The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Fireworks rules
What’s legal and what’s not in New Hampshire

By Ryan Lessard

 The list of fireworks devices residents can buy in New Hampshire has grown in the past five years despite the efforts of lawmakers concerned with safety, though a bill to add firecrackers to the list was shot down.

Major change
The last time the fireworks laws in the state were significantly altered was in 2011, when a long-held ban on reloadable mortars was quietly lifted. These devices are a single tube and a complement of mortar shells that shoot straight into the sky and break into a sphere of colored sparks. But the thing that makes them popular — the interactivity of loading and reloading loose shells — is the same thing that makes them dangerous. 
Since New Hampshire started regulating the consumer fireworks market in the late 1990s, reloadable mortars were the only device banned. 
“Reloadable mortars were never approved by the permissible fireworks committee, so they were never legal in New Hampshire,” said Bill Degnan, the state fire marshal.
By 2004, firecrackers and bottle rockets were also banned, for the same reasons. 
“Those three items top the list nationwide on the pyrotechnic causing injuries to the users,” Degnan said. “There have been some catastrophic injuries from the reloadable shells.”
One such incident occurred during a July 4 celebration at a private residence in Pelham in 2012. Hundreds of loose shells meant for reloadable mortars were stacked on a deck and accidentally ignited by a different kind of firework device that sprays sparks, called a spinner. Eight adults and five children were injured. A 2-year-old boy was placed in a temporary coma while doctors treated burns that covered most of his body.
Attempts to ban
The case triggered legislative battles to re-ban the devices. Lawmakers, including the representative from Pelham, crafted a bill that would prohibit the sale of reloadable mortars and a few other devices public safety officers agree are generally unsafe, such as spinners, parachute devices and helicopters. That bill failed in 2014, but that summer two more people were injured by a reloadable mortar in the same town of Pelham. 
This reignited efforts to ban them with a new bill in 2015, which didn’t include any of the other devices. But that bill failed as well. 
This year was the first session since the accidents that no ban of reloadable mortar shells was proposed in the legislature.
“It didn’t seem that there was any appetite for looking at [banning] reloadable mortars. We will certainly be continuing to discuss it,” Degnan said.
In the meantime, there was movement in the other direction with a bill that would have removed another long-banned firework from the non-permissible list: firecrackers.
Federal law already prohibits the consumer sale and use of larger explosives sometimes included in the firecracker category such as M-80s, M-100s, quartersticks, cherry bombs and silver salutes.
But this bill would have legalized the smaller types. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kenneth Weyler of Kingston, says legalizing them would help local licensed fireworks sellers compete with Maine, where they are legal. If someone is willing to drive to Maine for firecrackers, they may buy the rest of their fireworks there as well, Weyler said. Plus, he thinks the dangers of the small firecrackers are blown out of proportion.
But Degnan says it’s their small size that worries him.
“Yes, they may be small, but that’s usually where people get into trouble with them,” Degnan said. “Little children get a hold of them and even adults who think they can hold them in their hands.”
This bill got farther than the bills to ban reloadable mortars by passing both the House and the Senate, but Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed the bill. Attempts by the House to overturn the veto also failed.
What to know
While the sale of consumer fireworks is generally enabled by state law, with the exception of just firecrackers and bottle rockets, communities have the right to ban their use or limit it to specific times of the day.Degnan says cities generally don’t allow them while suburban or rural communities are more lax.
“In the cities of course, the risk is much higher because of the proximity of the buildings, trash barrels and so forth that can easily be ignited and go up the side of a building very rapidly,” Degnan said.
In Nashua and Salem, fireworks are prohibited, while Manchester and Portsmouth require special permits. There is no firework-specific ban or limitation in Concord.
Towns like Londonderry, Derry, Hooksett, Candia and Bedford also allow fireworks, but Degnan says residents should check with their town to see if there are any noise ordinances after certain hours.

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