SCHENECTADY — Shrouded in darkness, a group of merrymakers lit a fuse at the corner of Orchard Street and 2nd Avenue in the city’s Mont Pleasant neighborhood last Friday, then danced in the street as sparks rained down overhead.
Similar displays have unfolded across the city, including the Goose Hill section, where Susan Fitzgerald and her neighbors are fed up.
“It’s been an ongoing problem with new residents that we have tried as fellow citizens to address directly with these newcomers,” Fitzgerald said. “And our respectful pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”
Fitzgerald has lived on Avenue A since 2011 and says the situation is as bad as it’s ever been.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, we’re at the point where it is 10,” Fitzgerald said.
Neighbors brushed off attempts at intervention, citing long-standing Queens traditions, according to Fitzgerald, who asked Mayor Gary McCarthy at a press conference outside of the city’s Fire Department headquarters on Wednesday to crack down and enforce city ordinances prohibiting their discharge.
“Unless the police are ready to enforce the law, then we are stuck,” said Fitzgerald, noting one of the devices recently damaged a neighbor’s car.
Neighbors are also vexed by loud music and other quality-of-life issues.
Police are under the directive to issue citations and make arrests, and city Police Chief Eric Clifford said his department has not only boosted patrols during peak hours, but will also designate officers to respond specifically to fireworks calls.
That said, nabbing offenders is contingent on what officers observe and if they can collect enough evidence to warrant charges.
Eyewitnesses must speak up, too, by shooting video, if possible, and providing specific addresses.
“We have to have eyewitnesses who come forward and are willing to — as the chief pointed out — be partners in dealing with it,” said McCarthy, who said one particularly fiery day last weekend resulted in a backlog of 50 (non-emergency) calls.
Their emergence is coming earlier in the summer, well ahead of traditional Fourth of July festivities, a measure McCarthy attributed to a stir-crazy public seeking a break from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Fire Chief Ray Senecal said the devices also create potential fire hazards.
McCarthy said the rash in fireworks is a nationwide issue, including New York City, Albany and Syracuse, and he’s been in touch with other upstate officials to discuss how to best combat the issue.
Officials acknowledge it’s also a supply issue, as the devices are imported from states where they are legal, including Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Setting off fireworks is a violation-level offense in the city and offenders risk a $250 fine.
However, the city is attempting to quash the activity at a time when it’s also facing financial shortfalls that may slash Fire and Police Department personnel.
As a precautionary measure to lower overall expenses, city police are reducing staffing levels and have implemented a hiring freeze amid other cost-saving measures.
McCarthy renewed calls for a federal relief package to stave off layoffs.
“We need partnership at both the state and federal level,” McCarthy said.
Officials also addressed other challenges the community is expected to face as it emerges from coronavirus shutdowns this summer, including the importance of social distancing, wearing face coverings, illegal burning, bicycle, pool and air conditioning safety, and heat precautions.
City police aim to roll out a public service announcement via social media this weekend that highlights just how dangerous devices that are illegal to sell in New York state really are.
They are not targeting sparklers nor the types of fireworks that are permitted for sale.
While the sale of sparklers and similar small fireworks are banned in Schenectady County, they are allowed in Saratoga County.
However, commercial-grade fireworks, such as Roman candles, are banned statewide.
“If you get caught selling those, you’ll get into a lot of trouble,” said Blake Jackson, a tent officer at TNT Fireworks, which set up shop at a Milton shopping plaza off Rowland Street on Wednesday. “[Ours] light from the ground. They don’t explode in the air. Most of ours don’t go ‘boom’ and most just snap, crackle, pop and whistle.”
He says that doesn’t stop customers from asking about their more explosive counterparts.
“We don’t instruct people as to where they can go to get them,” Jackson said. “We just tell them we don’t have them.”
To report fireworks, call the Schenectady County Unified Communications Center’s non-emergency dispatch at 518-630-0911.