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Illegal fireworks continue to vex Schenectady residents, officials

Illegal fireworks continue to vex Schenectady residents, officials

City police quickly put the kibosh on the display
Illegal fireworks continue to vex Schenectady residents, officials
Schenectady Police officers confiscate illegal fireworks on Hulett Street Thursday, July 4, 2019.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — It’s illegal to set off fireworks in the city and purchase them in the county.

But that didn’t stop revelers from dodging the ban, where displays in parts of the city rivaled scenes from officially-sanctioned fireworks shows.

Dozens of people milled about on Hulett Street near Lincoln Avenue watching illegal displays, many of which were being ignited in the center of the street, blocking traffic and frustrating a mounting line of motorists.

Paired with the smoke, rising tensions and dirt bikes zipping up and down the street, some neighborhoods seemed under siege.

City police quickly put the kibosh on the display, seizing the fireworks and taking one man into custody: Nay-Quaree Robinson, who was charged with a violation of civil ordinance for lighting off an M-80. 

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Under a city ordinance, anyone found to have illegally launched a firework faces a fine of up to $250.

At least three others were cited elsewhere in the city: Devkumar Mangal was ticketed for discharging a device on Chiswell Road; Carvel L. Griffin for discharging a firework device on Mumford Street and Meena Ganga was charged with failing to acquire a permit, according to police reports.

But despite the ban and the fine, which was introduced by the City Council last year, commercial-grade explosives continued to detonate across the skyline throughout the night, resulting in what appeared to be a whack-a-mole approach to curb what city officials, residents and law enforcement have all agreed is problematic. 

Fred Lee, president of Schenectady Neighborhood Watch, said what was once a Hamilton Hill tradition has spread throughout the city and is now stubbornly entrenched. 

“Some people who never complain about anything are traumatized by it,” said Lee, who watched Facebook light up on Thursday with complaints.

Survivors of trauma, senior citizens and people with special needs are particularly vulnerable, he said.

“It’s really unneighborly to bombard people for hours,” he said. “It’s really hell to go through that and I can identify with them.”

Lee said a long-term solution will not emerge overnight and hoped sustained public outreach and education campaigns will eventually stamp out the practice.

Councilman John Polimeni introduced the fine last year, a measure he said would help put teeth in enforcement efforts.

“We had to do something," Polimeni said on Friday. "There was overwhelming concern from people in our neighborhoods."

Small pyrotechnic items like sparklers are legal to purchase in New York state twice annually. But Schenectady has joined Columbia County as the only upstate counties to bar sales.

Despite the ban, large-scale fireworks like the M-80s being set off in Hamilton Hill find their way into the city.

Out-of-state fireworks companies in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire advertise to state residents, said Polimeni, who wanted state police to step up to help curb the flow. 

“I’m glad police made the arrests they did, but quite frankly, it will be incumbent on state leaders to do something,” he said.

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