Sifting Through N.H.'s Fireworks Regulations

Jul 4, 2014

Reloadable mortars.
Credit Ryan Lessard / NHPR

Though forecasts for the day mean you probably won’t be enjoying fireworks until perhaps tomorrow, consumer fireworks are legal in New Hampshire—though at least 18 towns ban them.

NHPR's Ryan Lessard sits down with Rick Ganley to talk about the state's fireworks regulations.

RG: So Ryan, not all types fireworks are legal in New Hampshire. Which ones can we find on the shelves and which ones are still banned?

RL: Most of your typical consumer fireworks are readily available in the state. Roman candles, sparklers, fountains, mortar cakes etc., just to name a few. The state has long held a ban on bottle rockets, firecrackers and novelties that can produce just smoke as effect, for example. And in 2011 lawmakers legalized other devices. These include parachutes, which as the name implies, float away and can sometimes cause brushfires. Aerial spinners, which can have a similarly unpredictable trajectory and can spray sparks in every direction. And last but not least: reloadable mortars. These are just like mortar cakes but instead of a user lighting one wick and stepping back as each tube launches a shell in order, one at a time, the reloadable is just a single tube. And that requires the user to reinsert each shell and light each individual wick. The State Fire Marshal says that presents added dangers when people try to relight the same wick twice, or if an ember sits in wait at the bottom of the tube from the last launch.  Also, you have to get close enough in order to relight each wick.

RG: Okay and these newly legal devices have been involved in some accidents around the state. Like in Pelham two years ago.

RL: Right. And many still remember, more than a dozen people, including small children, were injured in a major explosion. That home had been host to holiday fireworks shows for years but this was the first time they had reloadable mortars and spinners. Both were involved in the accident, though this was an extreme case because the homeowner had unwrapped all the shells and piled them up, more than three hundred of them. And most of these shells are covered in paper, so one doesn’t necessarily need to light a wick for something to go wrong. Then, another accident involving reloadables took place last year in which a man lost an eye from shrapnel.

RG: After the Pelham accident, lawmakers looked at reinstating a ban. What’s happened?

RL: The first attempt was a bill in the House sponsored by a Pelham rep that basically wanted to bring us back to the pre-2011 statute which had listed these devices as banned. That failed in the House following a successful lobbying effort by the industry. Following that bill’s failure, two reps tried to bring back a state-level review board which had been stripped of its authority the same time reloadables were made legal. The review committee still exists and meets annually but the Fire Marshal says it’s as effective as you and I grabbing a beer and talking about soccer, for instance.

RG: And what happened with that bill?

RL: By the time it left the House committee this year it had been watered down. They outlined some changes to the makeup of the board but stripped it of all language that would’ve given it authority to ban fireworks. It ultimately died in the Senate. At the end of the day, selling new regulations is not easy in our state, even if they aren’t really new.

RG: You talked with the State’s Fire Marshal this week. What does he want people to remember as they do celebrate with fireworks?

RL: Mainly, just respect the fireworks for what they are. They’re bombs, mostly. Reloadable mortars in particular require a little more training than typical fireworks. You may have spent twenty bucks on a mortar but you’d better submerge a dud in water and cut your losses than try again. Also, whatever the instructions say on the box for a safe standing distance…. Add like fifty feet to that. Some of these accidents happen when the device works perfectly well but people don’t give the mortar a good hundred foot radius.

RG: Okay, thanks Ryan.

RL: Thanks Rick.