CAPITAL REGION -- If there weren't so many other unique things about this summer, it might be known as the "Summer of Illegal Fireworks."
Across the country, noise complaints from urban residents being kept awake and on edge by illegal fireworks going off late at night have, well ... skyrocketed. Schenectady has seen its complains shoot up, but so has Albany, and cities across the country from Seekonk to Seattle.
And now comes the Fourth of July, the granddaddy of aerial explosives holidays, when small pyrotechnic devices are legally sold for a one-month period in most Capital Region counties, and more-powerful fireworks bought in other states, like Pennsylvania, somehow mysteriously appear in New York streets and yards.
That happens every year, but this year there's every expectation things will be more intense that usual.
Schenectady city officials announced last week that they will be stepping up fireworks complaint enforcement, and Fire Chief Ray Senecal warned of the risks of injury when amateurs are in charge..
Illegal fireworks "pose a serious quality of life and safety issue here in the city of Schenectady,” Police Chief Eric Clifford said. “Not only can property damage and injuries occur with the use of fireworks, but a great deal of emotional harm can be done to those in our community living with conditions such as autism and PTSD. In addition, companion animals can suffer tremendously throughout these months.”
The reasons for the increase in illegal fireworks use are a matter of speculation. Maybe the pandemic has the public more on edge. Some people think young folks who have been stuck at home for months because of the pandemic are looking for excitement, but things also changed after the state allowed counties to legalize the sparkler-type devices in 2015 -- some people have taken that as being "anything goes."
The illegal firework problem after that became so bad that the Schenectady County Legislature in 2017 reversed course and re-imposed a ban on the sale of the small devices -- and now some Albany County legislators are talking about doing the same thing. They have the backing of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.
“This year has seen a troubling pattern of more explosive devices and there has been a significant increase in the use of illegal fireworks every year since we legalized sparklers in 2016," said County Legislator Sean Ward of Green Island. "We have also seen injuries attributed to the use of sparklers, many in children under the age of 14 years old. The injury report is enough to support this legislation. It also sends a message that no fireworks are legal.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, meanwhile, on Monday announced that the state police will crack down on New York residents bringing fireworks from Pennsylvania and other states into New York; troopers have already written some tickets.
The state Division of Consumer Protection on Thursday urged people to celebrate safely, noting that even the small devices can injure people, especially children.
Between 2012 and 2019, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of 126 fireworks-related deaths. In 2019, the commission estimated 10,000 fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries, with 73 percent of them occurring between June 21 and July 21.
“I know many New Yorkers are eager to celebrate Independence Day this year, but we must ensure our celebrations are safe by following the necessary health precautions,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection. “Not only do we want to keep our COVID-19 infection rate low, we want to make sure time-honored holiday traditions of fireworks and grilling are done safely by following basic tips.”
Drinking and driving will also be on authorities' radar this weekend.
State and local police agencies will increase their DWI patrols and also operate sobriety checkpoints across the state, Cuomo announced on Thursday.
"I urge all New Yorkers to act responsibly and make arrangements to find a safe way home -- never drink and drive," Cuomo said.
Last year, state police arrested 249 people for DWI over the Fourth of July weekend and investigated 187 crashes, including two fatalities, Cuomo's office said.