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Officials Stymied By Use Of Illegal Fireworks

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

After a noisy Fourth of July in upstate New York,  officials are rethinking their approach to legal and illegal fireworks.

Before the holiday, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and city officials held a press conference to go over guidelines for legal fireworks.   The mayor suggested revelers follow this rule-of-thumb:  "Anything that shoots up in the air is not legal. Anything that creates a big boom is not legal."

Come Tuesday, Albany was rocked by big booms, smaller pops and dazzling backyard fireworks displays anyway. 

In 2015, New York left it up to individual counties to permit the sale and personal use of small fireworks. Some municipalities like Schenectady County banned fireworks altogether. That didn't stop neighbors from lighting up the night sky. Independent City Councilman-at-large Vince Riggi says this year’s proliferation of illegal fireworks was the worst he'd ever seen.   "It was unbelievable. There was a picture in the paper today, and a councilperson called me, and we were talking about the fireworks, cause they said the same thing it was worse than they'd ever seen it, and I said 'Did you see the picture?' They said they did see it. They said 'that was the Rivers Casino.' I said 'No it wasn't, it was Schenectady and Hamilton Streets in Schenectady.'"

So, it's back to square one for officials. Albany's Acting Police Chief Robert Sears expressed disappointment that the pre-Fourth effort to inform citizens fizzled.    "We'll need to do a better job next year. It was definitely significant this year as well. To say it was more than last year, I don't know. But it didn't lower it to the level that we hoped it did. So we'll look at different ways we can get the message out next year."

Schenectady's Riggi says the quality of life issue posed by amateur pyrotechnics can be addressed — and will be once police have the ability to hand out on-the-spot tickets.   "We are talking, and I don't think it's in effect yet, of streamlining tickets for things like this. So if that happens, then it's gonna be basically it isn't gonna be like four of five pieces of paperwork that have to be filled out. It'll be basically like issuing a parking ticket. You know they can check off a box, ask for your identification and hand you a ticket if they roll up on it."

Riggi hopes that will put an end to neighbors trying to upstage one another with bigger, bolder fireworks displays.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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