SCHENECTADY – A city councilman wants to target illegal fireworks by launching a municipal lawn sign campaign, and he asked for the council’s support in requesting the state attorney general to outlaw out-of-state fireworks companies from advertising in New York.
This week during the Public Safety Committee, Councilman John Polimeni said Union College recently had a legal fireworks display that had the unintended consequence of being “the starting point for people to shoot off illegal fireworks in the neighborhood.”
Polimeni said law enforcement can get “overwhelmed with the amount of fireworks that are being shot off and they certainly do their best.”
Meantime, Polimeni said he noticed that the U.S. cities of Boston, Long Beach and San Jose had embarked on campaigns that featured lawn signs that speak to the illegality of fireworks.
Boston’s lawn sign messaging was, “Don’t cause trauma, don’t cause stress, don’t shoot off fireworks. Be a good neighbor.”
The councilman said Schenectady could mimic those efforts. People who put the signs on their lawns would be sending the message that “we don’t want this in our neighborhood,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said it’s something the city could enact.
“Most certainly, we’re looking at ways to get that message out of where we want people to be compliant. If people make poor choices with fireworks, they can be dangerous. They can be capable of inflicting personal injury, and we don’t want people to engage that cavalier activity,” McCarthy said, adding that the problem has escalated in the city the last couple of years.
Along those lines, McCarthy said the messaging could encourage people to enjoy legal fireworks displays by different organizations and cities in the Capital Region.
Council President John Mootooveren said the council has received complaints via email about illegal fireworks.
Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber said the department plans to have additional officers on the streets on July 4 and the day before, looking for offenders. He called the idea of lawn signs “pretty interesting” and said police would love to get the word out.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said it appears that people are shooting fireworks earlier than normal this year, in all parts of the city. Given the limited number of police available for fireworks enforcement, she said she favored any action that can educate people.
“Putting out PSAs on an immediate basis is an excellent way to at least begin to approach this,” Porterfield said.
The Public Safety Committee will consider messaging it will use and reconvene later this month.
Polimeni went on to address his message for the AG:
“One of the problems that we have with fireworks, particularly in New York state, and they are illegal in New York state, is the advertising of fireworks from states where they are legal themselves, in particular New Hampshire.”
Polimeni said he wondered why the state didn’t do more to crack down on this.
The councilman said he noticed that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey last year sent a cease and desist letter demanding that a national firework retailer with locations in New Hampshire immediately stop mailing advertisements to Massachusetts residents in violation of the state’s consumer protection law.
The letter alleged that Phantom Fireworks had been mailing advertisements and discount coupons to residences across Massachusetts highlighting the proximity of its New Hampshire retail stores.
“Given the extent of the problem that we have, I thought one aspect that we could do is request that the attorney general do likewise in New York state,” Polimeni said.
Polimeni said city Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin wrote a proposed resolution, which the Public Safety Committee approved for the City Council’s approval.
The city‘s existing ordinance for illegal public display of fireworks subjects the offender to a fine of up to $250, and that each launch of a firework constitutes a separate offense.
The state allows the sale of sparklers, at the option of counties. Schenectady County is among a limited number of counties that have opted out.
Assistant Fire Chief Don Mareno said the Fire Department responds to injuries, property damage and fires started by fireworks.
“Every year people get injured,” he said.
He recalled a significant fire in Yates Village about 15 years ago started by illegal fireworks.