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Schenectady County To Consider Opt-Out Of New York Small Fireworks Law

Gabriel Pollard

In 2015, Schenectady County was one several across New York that opted in to a state law allowing small fireworks and sparklers to be sold at certain times of the year.  But two years later, and with Independence Day approaching, some are calling on the county to opt-out of the state law to curb the use of illegal fireworks.

WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports.

Firecrackers and sparklers may seem harmless enough to many on the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, but Schenectady County legislator Randy Pascarella of Rotterdam says he did not anticipate how people would interpret New York’s fireworks law the county signed onto in 2015.

“I think some of the ambiguity came from, as we let some of the vendors in town, towns and cities, who got a peddler’s permit to set up a tent…well, the tents were designated ‘fireworks for sale.’”

Pascarella, a member of the Conservative Party, claimed in April that there’s been public outcry and a strain placed on law enforcement over the use of illegal fireworks in the county.

The issue has also prompted the Schenectady City Council to send a letter to the county urging action.

Independent City Council member Vince Riggi said he rushed out of a committee meeting earlier this week to attend a public hearing at the county on the bill.

“It ramped up so much in 2015 and also last year that it was unbelievable,” said Riggi. “I had phone calls the first year past midnight from constituents that were upset because there was fireworks going on, and it was in my own neighborhood. And it went on in my neighborhood until 3:30 in the morning.”

Riggi said he also heard from another group of constituents: dog owners, who said their animals were “traumatized” by fireworks.

But Republican County legislator Brian McGarry, also of Rotterdam, disagrees with Pascarella’s proposal.

“I’m just kind of tired of the law-abiding citizen having their freedoms restricted because of those that do not observe the law. That’s my objection to this legislation,” said McGarry.

McGarry said the county should find another way to educate the public about illegal fireworks, not take away sparklers and poppers from families on the Fourth of July.

“We oughta maybe think about taking some egregious illegal activity and highlight it publicly in an enforcement campaign to educate the people that, ‘No. This is not allowed.’”

Schenectady Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Matt Dearing said staffing levels are adjusted accordingly around Independence Day, but said he was unsure if the department has seen a significant increase in calls related to illegal fireworks over the last two summers.

“It’s just, you know, around that holiday and that time people will find ways to get these things whether they are technically legal in the county or the illegal kind and do fire them off in and around that holiday,” said Dearing.

Still, the Firemen’s Association of the State of the New York asks residents to educate themselves and leave fireworks to the professionals.

The Schenectady County Legislature is scheduled to meet next week.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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