Schenectady residents left fuming over illegal fireworks, despite recent ban

Some said this year's noise was worse than ever
Fireworks explode over the intersection of Schenectady and Hamilton streets in Hamilton Hill on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.
Fireworks explode over the intersection of Schenectady and Hamilton streets in Hamilton Hill on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

The persistent snap, crackle and pop of fireworks over Schenectady in recent days had some residents smoldering.

“The skies were lit up here,” City Councilman Vince Riggi said. “Jumpin’ Jack’s canceled? All you have to do is go to any neighborhood in the city.”

The county Legislature’s decision to ban the sale of sparklers and small, ground-based fireworks — an attempt to curb the use of illegal, larger fireworks — may have backfired, with many residents saying they saw more professional-grade pyrotechnics going off in their neighborhoods this year than previous years.

New York state, in 2014, allowed counties to pass local laws legalizing the sale of sparklers and similar devices in the days leading up to the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day. In May, Schenectady County became the first municipality to reverse course, saying that legalizing sparklers led some to believe all fireworks were allowed. The City Council passed a resolution supporting the measure.

But small fireworks were readily available in surrounding counties. Some people went a step further, securing M-80s, bottle rockets and other explosives that lit the skies from Rotterdam to Hamilton Hill to Van Vranken Avenue during the Fourth of July and the preceding weekend.

“It was unbelievable,” said Camille Sasinowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association. “What’s to stop them from going to Colonie or Saratoga (to buy fireworks), or driving two-and-a-half hours to Pennsylvania?”

Riggi said he found remnants Wednesday morning of fireworks scattered around the Bellevue neighborhood, including some in his yard.

In Mont Pleasant, fireworks lit up the skies and residents’ ear drums until about 12:30 a.m., said Patricia Smith, president of the neighborhood association. One neighbor reported rattling windows, while another reported that fireworks debris land on a car, scorching the paint, she said.

County Legislator Gary Hughes, who voted in favor of enacting the ban, said he felt it was quieter than past years in his neighborhood near Central Park, but he heard a few pops scattered over the weekend.

“I think the best thing we can do is to probably get a look at the statistics for this season and see if there was any change,” Hughes said. “There’s nothing more we can do as a body. It’s a local enforcement issue from here on out.”

The Schenectady Fire Department did not see any issues related to fireworks, Chief Ray Senecal said. Complaints are typically handled by the police department, though.

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford didn’t know the exact number of calls received on the holiday about fireworks, but he said the department was busy and estimated there were probably about 30 calls coming in at a given hour related to fireworks concerns.

The city on Wednesday detailed a streamlined process for issuing tickets for quality-of-life violations, such as littering and noise complaints. The process would halve the time it takes an officer to cite someone for such an offense, Clifford said.

Next year, that process could be put to use for those setting off illegal fireworks, he said. This year, he admitted, officers were often too busy handling complaint calls to stop and book someone under the old enforcement process.

“You make something illegal, you need to see that it’s being enforced,” said Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, who was kept up into the early morning by neighbors launching fireworks.

She acknowledged the police department may not have had the manpower on a holiday to handle the scope of the fireworks issues, and other residents said they felt police were doing the best they could.

For Isaacs and others, they said it often comes down to neighbors lacking respect for those around them, adding that fear of a financial penalty may be the only way to get a handle on the issue.

“There was always illegal fireworks, but somebody would blow up an M-80 and that was the end of it,” said Riggi, the city councilman. “When did the mindset change?”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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