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Pittsburgh's Fireworks Task Force Uses ShotSpotter To Help Crackdown On Illegal Fireworks

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The city of Pittsburgh's Fireworks Task Force is back this year to crack down fireworks.

The eight-member task force is made up of police officers and firefighters.

If you decide to observe the Fourth of July holiday with a bang, the task force will be on the lookout for dangerous and destructive fireworks from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night until July 5.

"Our main concern is structure fires from results from misusing fireworks and more importantly injuries," said Wendell Hissrich, the city's public safety director.

Last year, a fire at the abandoned Horace Mann School was sparked by fireworks. There were seven structure fires, several brush fires, reported injuries and multiple noise complaints in the city last year. The task force handed out 22 citations.

This year, the task force is using the ShotSpotter alert system to detect loud, illegal booms.

"They are able to remove filters. We are able to focus on areas where there is a lot of frequency of fireworks being fired and the task force or the police officers will respond to that area," Hissrich said.

Fireworks are legal to purchase in Pennsylvania, but fireworks cannot be set off within 150 feet of a structure, in any city park, ball field or city-owned property.

When task force members respond to complaints, they will explain the laws and regulations. If they return to the same address, there might be a $100 citation and confiscation of the fireworks.

"We're not looking to cite. We hope they adhere to our advice. If we get calls back, they will be cited. Or if the result of the fireworks is a structure fire, there will be a full investigation," said Hissrich.

Meanwhile, shelves are being stocked at Phantom Fireworks in Monroeville.

"Just try to get in here early rather than later because it's going to be a madhouse sooner than we think," said Mike Marcis, co-manager at Phantom Fireworks.

Marcis said less product is coming in because of a possible shortage.

"I'm noticing a shortage on our ordering side of things. I'm getting all the things we need for this store and being ready as we can for the rush that's to come. Currently, we're pretty full but at the same time, I know that late rush is coming and it's going to be hard to keep stock in," Marcis said.

Officials are hoping consumer fireworks won't be utilized as much this year. They hope people choose public fireworks displays, like the show planned for Point State Park, to celebrate our independence.

"Fireworks are best left to the professionals," Hissrich said.

Hissrich said residents can report illegal fireworks use to police, but it will only be a priority call if someone is using fireworks close to a structure or if someone under the age of 18 is using fireworks.

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