Foss: Imagining a solution to fireworks

Fireworks explode over Hulett Street in Hamilton Hill July 4, 2019
Fireworks explode over Hulett Street in Hamilton Hill July 4, 2019

Yes, I’ve heard them. 

Every night, around dusk, there’s a smattering of pops. Over the next hour or two, the sound rises to a crescendo, with at least one extremely loud explosion rattling the house while I’m putting my son to bed. “Fireworks!” he’ll yell, if he’s still awake. 

When I was growing up, fireworks were a special treat reserved for July 4th at the fairgrounds. 

Now they’re a nightly nuisance, a non-stop barrage of illegal explosives that has city dwellers throughout the Northeast short on sleep and patience, and desperate for solutions. Pretty much everyone agrees that the problem is worse than in past years. But what is to be done? 

Unfortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t have a quick or easy answer. 

Fireworks are a perennial concern, but this year the issue has surfaced at an unusually fraught time – after months of lockdown due to a global pandemic, and weeks of protests against police brutality and racism. 

Police have been inundated with fireworks-related calls, but more people are asking whether it’s appropriate to send armed officers of the law to deal with quality-of-life problems. I’ve seen more than one person assert that calling the police is the wrong way to approach the amateur pyrotechnic displays disrupting communities throughout the Capital Region. 

What I haven’t seen is much of an alternative, other than shrugging your shoulders and ignoring the problem.

If we want people to stop calling the police about fireworks, we need to come up with another way to address what has become a significant seasonal headache. 

“It sounds like major ordnance out there sometimes,” said Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, a group representing the city’s neighborhood associations. “Someone could definitely get hurt.” 

This year, fireworks have emerged as SUN’s top summertime concern, along with illegal ATV and dirt bike riding. The group is planning on meeting with city officials to discuss it, and hoping to develop some kind of solution. 

“This is by far the worst year for fireworks,” Carey told me, noting that the issue is more concerning than what typically gets classified as a quality-of-life problem. “Everybody agrees.” 

Carey said SUN believes the police should be part of the fireworks solution – a position that fits with the group’s overall belief that the police “should have a presence in our neighborhoods.” 

What a solution might look like is a bit of a mystery, one that many cities are grappling with. 

In Boston, one city council member, Julia Mejia, called for community-based solutions to fireworks “that will be much more peaceful than police involvement,” and hosted a Zoom meeting to discuss “the social, emotional and physical impact of fireworks” with residents.” 

“I don’t think the government is going to fix this,” Mejia told the Boston Globe. “Community residents can address this issue.” 

Over the past five years, the fireworks problem in the Capital Region has gotten noticeably worse, even as local lawmakers have tried to fix it. 

In 2017, Schenectady County legislators repealed a law legalizing small fireworks such as sparklers that was passed just two years earlier. The Schenectady City Council passed a law imposing a fine of up to $250 on anyone found to illegally have launched a firework. 

At this point, it’s clear that a new, more creative approach to the fireworks problem is needed – one that’s rooted in the community, involves groups like SUN and looks beyond law enforcement for answers. Perhaps it will involve law enforcement, as Carey suggested.

But the overall strategy needs to be broader and more imaginative than simply asking the police to crack down on fireworks.

If it isn’t, it won’t work. 

Fireworks might seem like a minor complaint – until you’ve spent weeks on end listening to the nightly cacophony and wondering whether it will ever end. For those with panicked pets, sleeping problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, the loud bangs and pops are especially bothersome and troubling. 

My guess is that it’s too late to solve the fireworks problem this year. 

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 

Because there’s always next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

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