CAPITAL REGION -- You've seen the pop-up tents in commercial parking lots offering small fireworks for sale -- or at least you have if you've been outside Schenectady County.
With the July 4 holiday imminent, New York is on one of the two brief periods each year when it's legal to sell small pyrotechnic items like sparklers. This year, sales that became legal on June 20 end on Friday, July 5.
The sales are allowed, at a county's option, under a law the state Legislature adopted in 2014. The other period when sales are legal is between Christmas and New Year's Day. Other than that, all fireworks are illegal in New York state, as they have been for more than a century.
While such sales are now allowed in every other county in the Capital Region, the Schenectady County Legislature rescinded its earlier approval in 2017, and reiterated that in 2018, when it adopted a law specifically opting the county out.
In other local counties, officials see the sales as providing a brief boost to the local economies and a shot of sales tax revenue.
In Schenectady, county legislators were hoping a ban would cut down on the number of larger and still-illegal fireworks in use in the city of Schenectady, but it isn't clear whether the ban has been effective in reducing illegal activity.
"There were so many complaints coming out, it created some confusion for law enforcment about what was legal and what wasn't," said County Attorney Chris Gardner. "I think it's improved but it's not perfect."
County Legislature Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said there are plenty of free fireworks shows done by professionals, including a county-sponsored free event Wednesday night at the Mabee Farm property in Rotterdam Junction. There's been no talk of reconsidering the county ban, he said.
"We're kind of following the lead of the men and women in our fire service, and they're very adamant that these are dangerous," Hughes said. "Our best advice is to come out and enjoy a free celebration that is safe, and done by licensed professionals."
Schenectady and Columbia counties are the only upstate counties that bar sales, but they are also banned in New York City and Nassau County. But with full-scale fireworks sold to the public in states as close as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, illegal fireworks celebrations are hard not to hear this week, regardless of where you live.
The Fireman's Association of New York State is warning the public that even the sparklers aren't as safe as people may think.
"All fireworks, including sparkling devices, are extremely dangerous," the association said in a pre-holiday press release. "Despite their toy-like appearances, sparklers can seriously harm their users. The tip of a sparkler burns at a temperature of approximately 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause severe burns.
"Only professionals who have undergone training and certification should handle these types of devices, and FASNY strongly urges New Yorkers not to purchase or use them," said FASNY President Steven Klein. "Avoiding sparklers and fireworks may well save both lives and property alike.”
A 2018 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in 2017, fireworks were involved in an estimated 12,900 injuries, and children under the age of 15 accounted for 36 percent of these injuries.