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Wisconsin Fireworks Law 2012

Legal Without A Permit

State law allows the sale, possession and use, without a permit, of sparklers not
exceeding  36 inches in length, stationary cones and fountains, toy snakes, smoke
bombs, caps, noisemakers, confetti poppers with less than ¼ grain of explosive mixture,
and novelty devices that spin or move on the ground.   Wis. Stat. § 167.10(1).   There is
no age restriction on sale, possession or use of these devices and the statute does not
classify them as fireworks.  Local ordinances may be more restrictive than state statutes
and may prohibit any of these items or limit their sale or use.  These are the only kinds
of “fireworks,” as that word is commonly used, that a person may use or possess
without a permit or that may be sold to a person who does not have a permit.

Illegal Without A Permit

Possessing or using any other fireworks, including, for example, firecrackers, roman
candles, bottle rockets and mortars, in Wisconsin without a valid permit is illegal.  Wis.
Stat. § 167.10(3).     A commonly used rule of thumb is that a permit is required if the
device explodes or leaves the ground.   The sale of these restricted fireworks to a
resident of this state without a valid permit is also illegal. 

Conditions For A Valid Permit

The requirements for a valid permit are contained in Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(a), (c) and (f)
and are detailed below.

A permit may be issued by a mayor, village president or town chair or any person
designated by the mayor, village president or town chairperson.  Wis. Stat.
§ 167.10(3)(a).    If a city, village, or town requires that a user’s permit be signed or
stamped, a person who is authorized to issue the permit under par. (a) may sign or
stamp the permit before the permit is issued rather than signing or stamping the permit
at the time that it is issued. Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(fm).

A permit is valid only in the city, village or town of the official who issued it.  A mayor,
village president, town chair, or a person they have designated can only authorize
possession or use of fireworks within their jurisdiction.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(a).   For
example, a permit issued by the town chair of one town cannot and does not authorize
possession or use of the fireworks in another town.   Transportation Exception:  A
person who has a valid permit from one municipality may purchase fireworks in another
municipality and transport them to the municipality in which the person has a permit. 
Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(b)7.

A permit may require a bond or insurance.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(e).  An official issuing
a permit may require a bond or insurance policy to indemnify the issuing municipality
for any damages that may result from the possession or use of the fireworks. 
A permit may be issued to an individual or group of individuals.   Permits, other than
for crop protection, may be issued to a public authority, a fair association, an
amusement park, a park board, a civic organization, an individual, or a group of
individuals.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(c).

Although individuals may obtain permits, a group may also obtain a permit in the
group’s name.  A group with a permit may authorize an individual to make purchases on
its behalf, but the permit must be in the name of the group.  A person buying for a
group should have both a copy of the group’s permit and the authorization of the group. 
A group may not issue a blanket authorization to all of its members to purchase on
behalf of the group.  City of Wisconsin Dells v. Dells Fireworks, Inc., 197 Wis. 2d 1, 21,
539 N.W.2d 916 (Ct. App. 1995).    http://www.wicourts.gov/ca/opinions/94/pdf/94-
1999.pdf.   Wis. Stat § 167.10 creates “strict regulations” on the sale and use of
fireworks.  Id.  Based on all the circumstances the organization must actually exercise
control over the purchase or use of the fireworks by its members.  Id.

The authorized buyer may only buy the kind of fireworks specified in the group’s
permits.  The total quantity purchased by all authorized buyers on behalf of the group
cannot exceed the quantity of fireworks authorized by the permit.  The fireworks
purchased on behalf of the group may only be possessed in the municipality which
issued the group’s permit, except while being transported from the point of sale to that
municipality.  The fireworks may only be used by the group on the date and location
specified on the permit and subject to any other conditions on the permit.

A valid permit must specify the general kind and approximate quantity of fireworks
which may be purchased.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(f)3.

A permit must specify the location at which the fireworks may be possessed or used. 
Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(f)4.   As noted above, this location must be within the jurisdiction
of the official who issued the permit.  It must be a specific location within that
jurisdiction, rather than the entire jurisdiction.  The statute uses “location” in the
singular.  A permit that specifies multiple locations is not valid.

The permit must specify the date of the permitted use.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(f)4.  The
word “date” is in the singular in the statute.  A permit that specifies multiple dates or a
range of dates of permitted use is not valid.  This, in combination with the specification
of location, means that a separate permit is required for each date and location for
which use is permitted.

The permit must specify the date on and after which the fireworks can be purchased. 
Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(f)2.  Once a permit is issued, the permitee may purchase fireworks
up to the date of the permitted use.

A copy of a permit for large fireworks  displays must be given to a fire or law
enforcement official in the municipality which issued the permit at least two days
before the date of use.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(g). This requirement does not apply to
smaller consumer fireworks which require a permit, i.e. those classified as Division 1.4
explosives under CFR 173.50, or those items which fall outside the definition of
fireworks e.g. those identified in  Wis. Stat. §167.10(1)(a)-(n). (Display fireworks are
those classified as Division 1.3 explosives under CFR 173.50.)

The permit may contain additional restrictions.    Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(f)5.    A
municipality may adopt ordinances imposing special restrictions, e.g., times or manner
of use, distances from buildings or spectators, etc. and a permit may specify these
additional restrictions.

Permits may not be issued to minors.   Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(h).   Since minors may not
be issued fireworks permits, there are no conditions under which it is legal for a minor
to possess or use any fireworks except those allowed without a permit, e.g., sparklers,
snakes, fountains, etc.

Fireworks vendors rather than only wholesalers or jobbers are now permitted to sell
fireworks to a person who is not a resident of this state.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(2)(bg). 

However, a nonresident person may not possess or use fireworks in Wisconsin without
a valid Wisconsin permit.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(a).   See also State v. Victory Fireworks,
Inc.,  230 Wis. 2d 721, 726-27, 602 N.W.2d 128 (Ct. App. 1999).  A nonresident who
lawfully purchases fireworks under a permit can possess and use those fireworks in
Wisconsin pursuant to the terms of the permit or may transport them out of state.  A
nonresident without a valid Wisconsin permit may order fireworks from a fireworks
vendor for shipping out-of-state.    Wis. Stat. § 167.10(4), or may transport those
fireworks from Wisconsin to another state. (See below)  

Persons may transport fireworks from the place they were purchased to the city, town
or village where their possession or use is authorized under a permit or ordinance.
Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(b)7.  However, persons transporting fireworks may not possess
them in a city, town or village without a permit from that jurisdiction if they remain
there for more than 12 hours.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(3)(bm).

Penalties

A person who possesses or uses fireworks without a valid permit, or who sells fireworks
to a person who does not have a valid permit, is subject to a forfeiture of up to $1,000
per violation.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(9)(b).   Each firework illegally possessed, used or sold
may be a separate violation.

A parent or guardian who allows a minor to possess or use fireworks (not including
those for which no permits are required) is subject to a forfeiture of up to $1,000 per
violation.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(9)(c).

A city, village or town may obtain an injunction prohibiting a person from violating Wis.
Stat. § 167.10(8)(a).  Violations of such an injunction are criminal misdemeanors, subject
to up to 9 months in jail and a $10,000 fine.  Wis. Stat. § 167.10(9)(a).

Enforcement

The statutes do not give the Department of Justice direct authority to enforce the
fireworks law.  Enforcement responsibility and authority rest with local law enforcement
and district attorneys, or municipal prosecutors in the case of local ordinance violations.
Therefore, law enforcement should consult their local district attorney and municipal
prosecutors with respect to specific enforcement questions in their jurisdiction.

ROY KORTE
Assistant Attorney General
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707
(608) 267-1339
korterr@doj.state.wi.us