Going where they get a bang for their bucks: Marylanders cross border for holiday fireworks

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It’s the evening before the Fourth of July, and the parking lot of the Phantom Fireworks store is crawling with SUVs and pick-up trucks trolling for a parking spot.

Based on the number of Maryland flag and Chesapeake Bay license plates coming in and out of the parking lot, it might appear this store was in Maryland. But the shop is actually 10 minutes north of the border, off Interstate 83 in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, a state with significantly looser laws and restrictions around fireworks.

Such is the reality ahead of Independence Day: Marylanders crossing the border to purchase fireworks that are illegal in their home state.

Like James, a 26-year-old Prince George’s County resident who did not want to give his last name. He drove 90 minutes Wednesday evening to pick up a few fireworks that he can’t buy in Maryland.

“The shops around my area only have sparklers and little stuff. I believe Fourth of July is a patriotic thing to do. So, you know, the bigger the show, the more patriotic,” he said.

Smaller, ground-based sparklers that are non-aerial and non-explosive are permitted in Maryland, but pretty much anything else – firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets and any firework that is shot from a mortar tube – is prohibited in the state. Buying prohibited fireworks from another state and bringing them home to set off in Maryland is also illegal.

Maryland’s firework laws seem futile to James and those like him.

“People are going to get them regardless, so why prevent us from getting them?” he asked.

But supporters of the restrictions point to the increase in emergency room visits on the Fourth of July and surrounding days, as firework misuse and accidents lead to burn injuries and even deaths.

“Obviously burn injuries are the most common. Sparkler injuries usually to small children typically lead the way,” said DR. Patrick Mularoni, medical director of the Pediatric Sports Medicine Division at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in a written post on firework safety ahead of the holiday.

“The second most common injury is blast injuries causing severe burns or amputations. Many times fireworks will go off sooner than expected taking the person lighting them by surprise,” Mularoni’s post warns. “Also fireworks that don’t go off, which are often termed ‘duds,’ may explode unexpectedly and cause injuries.”

According to 2023 data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, firework injuries have been on a decline since 2020, but thousands still get injured each year.

In 2023, there were 9,700 people treated in the emergency room for firework injuries, down from 10,200 in 2022. Eight people died from fireworks in 2023.

“Out of the eight deaths, five were associated with firework misuse, two with a device malfunction, and one involves unknown circumstances,” the CPSC report said.

Despite restrictive laws or safety concerns, Marylanders are likely to be sending fireworks into the sky across the state Thursday to celebrate the Fourth of July.

When asked what he plans to do with his newly acquired fireworks, James had simple plans in mind.

“I’m going to get a couple friends together, find a little patch of land somewhere and just set them off,” he said.

Tips to celebrate safely

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers the following tips to stay safe when handling fireworks:

  • Make sure to know which fireworks are legal in your area.
  • Do not allow children to handle fireworks.
  • Do not use fireworks while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • When using fireworks, keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby in case of emergency.
  • Do not try to relight a malfunctioning firework. Instead, soak it in water and then throw it away.
  • Spent fireworks should be doused with water before throwing them away to prevent trash fires.
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