With the Fourth of July approaching, the tent sales are back.
The temporary fireworks vendors’ tent stands that have become common in service station and commercial parking lots are back for the third year, selling sparklers and other small celebratory devices — though you might not know it from the banners blaring “Fireworks!” above many of the stands.
The sale of the small ground-use fireworks is legal in every county in the Capital Region, with one major exception — Schenectady County. There, the county Legislature voted to rescind its 2015 law allowing the small fireworks.
A TNT Fireworks tent in Round Lake. (Marc Schultz)
The majority of county legislators said the local law legalizing sparklers, poppers, “snakes” and their ilk contributed to the perception that the use of larger fireworks have become much more common — either the public believes all fireworks are legal or they intentionally take advantage of any confusion, legislators argued. County legislators and speakers at public hearings said it was common last year to hear large overhead fireworks in Schenectady neighborhoods until the wee hours of the morning. Police, meanwhile, said the number of fireworks complaint calls went up.
In other words, people all over Schenectady were putting on their own aerial explosive shows rather than waiting for the permitted events put on by professionals, like the pyrotechnics this Friday night at Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia, or next week in Saratoga Springs’ Congress Park or at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
The repeal means the use of small fireworks is again prohibited. With Schenectady County being an island of prohibition, County Attorney Christopher Gardner acknowledges there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether the ban will be effective.
“We’ll find out,” Gardner said. “It makes it easier for police to say, ‘You can’t use any at all,’ rather than having to say, ‘These are legal, these aren’t legal.'”
“I’m expecting there will be somewhat of a decrease, but I don’t think we know,” Gardner said.
Some people are unhappy sales are no longer allowed in the county.
TNT Fireworks is one of the major tent vendors, but had to pull out of Schenectady County this year, regional manager Robyn Curran said. She said TNT operates in all counties where it’s legal and in spots where it has obtained any necessary local permits.
A sparkler sales fundraiser for Voice for the Voiceless feline rescue planned for a Wal-Mart parking lot in Schenectady County was moved to an Army Navy store parking lot in Latham. TNT Fireworks is willing to give a cut of sales to nonprofit groups that help staff the tents, Curran said. Nonprofits are also benefiting from sparkler sales in Amsterdam and Gloversville.
The last two years is a big change from the past.
For decades, all fireworks were illegal in New York state. The state law passed in 2014, at the behest of the fireworks industry and local officials believing it would generate more sales revenue, allows sales throughout upstate during two brief periods — a few weeks before the Fourth of July holiday and a few weeks before New Year’s Day.
Counties had to pass local laws to opt into the state’s new law. As of this spring, 40 of upstate’s 57 counties allowed the sales, though Schenectady’s decision has reduced that number by one.
Outside Schenectady, permanent retailers like Wal-Mart have been selling their fireworks for several weeks already, while the state law only allows temporary sales — the kind done from tents — between June 20 and July 5.
Firefighting organizations opposed the legalization of even the small fireworks, noting they burn hot enough to cause injury. The laws require they only be used by adults, though children have been fascinated by sparklers for generations.
George LaMarche, a lawyer in Clifton Park who has handled fireworks injury cases, said the use of illegal fireworks seems to be up.
“They are more available and people aren’t really educating themselves, so the amount of injuries is on the rise,” he said. “We are receiving more calls than we have in the past.”
Regardless of whether they’re legal, LaMarche said there’s such a long tradition of lighting fireworks for the Fourth of July that he believes people will always find a way to get them and use them.