TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – Home fireworks displays around the holidays are common in Florida, but still illegal.
Fireworks are openly sold in the state using a loophole that allows their sale for agricultural purposes, but bills filed in both the House and Senate for the upcoming 2020 legislative session could fully legalize fireworks on three major holidays.
In Florida, the only legal way to perform big fireworks displays, like the ones put on by Craig Dennis with Ashley Pyrotechnics, is with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives clearance.
“We get lots of requests from the public for fireworks,” said Dennis.
But Dennis declines those offers.
“We don’t play this game of having people sign a form that says they’re going to use fireworks for agricultural purposes,” he said.
However, some retailers do by selling fireworks to Floridians using the legal loophole. But new legislation would make fireworks 100 percent legal on Memorial Day, Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.
The idea has some in the fire safety field, like former Director of the State Fire Marshal’s Office Buddy Dewar, concerned.
“The fire service community are concerned about the safety of the public,” Dewar said.
Last year there were an estimated 9,100 fireworks injuries across the US. To fire safety advocates, more fireworks means more accidents.
“Kids with missing hands and fingers, facial injuries, burns,” said Dewar.
In the rare case the current law is enforced, a person could face a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for home fireworks displays.
A glance at the night sky on the holidays however, makes it clear the existing penalties do little to deter many Floridians.
“I hear that all the time that we’re going to fill the trauma centers up if we legalize this,” said Dennis. “Well folks, those fireworks are being sold under the counter already in this state using this charade of an agricultural exemption.”
Companies like Dennis’ that try not to bend the current rules believe the holiday exemption would simply put them on a level playing field with those currently exploiting the agricultural exemption.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office says it’s currently reviewing the legislation, but specified its top priority remains on fire safety.