Albany County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce, fellow Democrat Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, and Albany Fire Chief Joseph Gregory announced new legislation limiting the use of fireworks in Albany County.
Addressing reporters at Hudson-Jay Park in the city, the officials listed problems that have emerged since New York state legalized sparkling devices: such as increased PTSD problems for veterans, and pets defecating in their homes while panicking over the bursts of noise.
Joyce says he made a mistake when he voted to legalize sparklers in Albany County in 2016. He says the law was intended to cover small, hand-held sticks.
“But what ended up in the stores after the fact, they’re not sparklers as you can see,” Joyce said. “These TNT brand, large mortar-shooting fireworks. This is what showed up in the neighborhoods. And this is not what we had expected and I’m going to do a rare thing for a politician to do at this point and say that I got it wrong when I voted yes for local law A for 2016.”
Mayor Sheehan says a key obstacle is people bringing in fireworks from other counties and states.
“That’s the challenge with this is that – most of the fireworks that are being set off here are legal somewhere, they’re just not legal here,” Sheehan said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says state police will launch a detail to stop the products from coming into the state from Pennsylvania stores.
“We’re going to be focusing on that route for the transmission of the fireworks,” Cuomo said. “We’ll also be helping local governments deal with this issue but I need the local governments in this state to take is seriously.”
Sheehan says adjusting the county law will help police respond to the firework complaints.
“One of the challenges that we have is that when you have devices like this that are legal in the county it is very difficult for our police to determine, when they see activity happening whether the devices are legal or illegal,” Sheehan said.
Sheriff Apple says, as of right now, enforcing controls on fireworks is not realistic, and even if the fireworks are found to be dangerous, it’s a misdemeanor.
“It’s unrealistic to think that by the time we get called and get there to the scene – unless we’re driving by and somebody’s blowing it right off – it’s not going to happen,” Apple said. “And if we get a call for a neighborhood we make sure they know we’re there. Hopefully we can deter them and push them back inside their house or whatever but for me to dedicate forces toward fire[works] is not going to happen.”
Apple anticipates a booming July 4th weekend.
“Every year they blow off fireworks. You know? I mean, let’s be real,” Apple said. “But, the problem is this year it was so early. It started in, like, May. And now we’re leading all the way up to this weekend and there’s no plaza fireworks this year so I’m sure everybody loaded up so it’s going to be a – going to be a crazy weekend I think.”
Albany Fire Chief Gregory says children around 10 to 14 have the highest rate of injuries from fireworks. He says fireworks cause around 20,000 fires nationally each year, mostly house fires.
“The Albany Fire Department does not condone the use of any fireworks by the general public because fireworks are extremely dangerous,” Gregory said. “Only trained professionals in a controlled setting should be using the fireworks.”
Joyce says the first step is to focus on grocery stores and other retailers that carry the small fireworks.
“We need to get these sparklers off the shelves,” Joyce said. “Like you can walk into a Price Chopper or a Target and just pick them up if you’re a certain age and you can go right home at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and set them off and do it way through to the morning hours.”
Joyce says it’s too late for this 4th of July weekend, but the law will be different by 2021.
“I won’t say it’s a total change,” Joyce said, “but we will be making it easier for law enforcement to identify what’s illegal and what isn’t and I do believe it will be quieter in the neighborhoods and this will be a good key first step in mitigating the issue.”