New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection, celebration and — increasingly — backyard explosions.
While Tampa Bay has several professional fireworks displays planned for Saturday night, the number of people setting up their own at-home pyrotechnics is expected to be larger than ever — at least if sales from local fireworks stores are any indication.
The Phantom Fireworks location in South Tampa was bustling on Thursday, and manager Nick Ruiz said he expected to only get busier in the final days and hours before New Year’s Eve. He’s hoping he’ll be able to surpass last year’s sales numbers.
Nationally, consumer fireworks sales have doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, setting a record $2.2 billion in sales nationwide in 2021. This year is on track to be even higher, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnic Association.
“Once people got a taste of at-home celebrations, they really took a liking to backyard fireworks,” Heckman said. “2020 was off the charts, and demand has only gone up from there.”
Although the Fourth of July is still by far the most popular day for fireworks across the U.S., mild winter weather in southern states like Florida makes the new year a popular time for celebratory combustions, she said.
Customers are going bigger than ever this year, said Ruiz of Phantom Fireworks. The most popular item flying off his shelves are reloadable mortars — including the $300 “Lock and Load” package of 24 shells — which are the closest thing to professional fireworks that are street legal, he said.
“A lot of people want something with as big a bang as possible,” he said.
In Florida, people are technically only legally allowed to buy and set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July, after a 2020 law clarified the state’s regulation of explosives (although there are exceptions). Those laws don’t supersede local regulations, like those in Pinellas County, that prohibit the use of fireworks without an approved permit.
The proliferation of at-home fireworks has not come without its drawbacks. Firework-related injuries were up 15% last year compared to 2019, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The most common cause of injury is product misuse, Heckman said. She recommends having a sober, responsible adult in charge of any fireworks.
“Read the instructions during the day and prepare a flat-level surface, even if it’s just a piece of plywood,” she said. “And, this should be obvious, but never hold a firework and shoot them from your hand.”
While large fireworks are more likely to cause serious harm, sparklers and firecrackers are responsible for the majority of injuries in instances where the type of fireworks is known, according to federal data.
Sparklers get extremely hot, Heckman said, making them especially dangerous for young children. Her rule of thumb: “If you wouldn’t give (a child) a candle or matches, don’t have them hold a sparkler.”
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The number of noise complaints to the St. Petersburg Police Department that specifically mentioned fireworks also jumped from 409 in 2019 to 660 in 2021.
While there are no records of fines or arrests in St. Petersburg in recent years, police officers will confiscate fireworks if they receive repeated complaints, said department spokesperson Ashley Limardo.
The first rule of firework etiquette is to let your neighbors know about your plans, Heckman said. That heads-up allows pet owners or veterans who are sensitive to fireworks prepare for the noise.
It’s also helpful to limit the time window in which you light off fireworks, said Regan Blessinger, marketing and content manager at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. A few hours of noise is manageable for most pets, she said, but stress can build up over prolonged exposure.
There are some things pet owners can do to prepare for New Year’s celebrations, Blessinger said. Most important is knowing ahead of time how your animal reacts to stress. Owners should also ensure their pets are chipped and have an identification tag in case they bolt.