Schenectady is looking for a solution to the problem of persistent late-night fireworks in the Electric City.
Schenectady, like so many other cities this summer, is experiencing an explosion in the use of illegal fireworks.
Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy was joined by city officials for a press conference Wednesday outside the city’s fire station on Veeder Avenue.
“Some of the fireworks that are going off are professional grade. They’re not ones that are legal in New York State. They create a potential risk for not only for those individuals who are detonating them or igniting them, but for surrounding properties,” said McCarthy.
City Fire Chief Ray Senecal said with the hot, dry weather, there is an increased risk for fires caused by neighborhood fireworks. He cited national statistics showing that half of those injured by fireworks are children ages 10 to 14.
“I’m going to say that again: Half of the injuries are to children ages 10 to 14, and they are not the individuals lighting these fireworks. Where that projectile lands is a concern. I think that’s an important point to make,” said Senecal.
At a press conference that focused on all aspects of summer safety, Senecal said even devices like sparklers cause a quarter of fireworks-related injuries.
Fireworks have been an issue throughout the city, said city councilor Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas.
“Personally, they’ve been waking me up too. I had my granddaughter on Sunday night and my dog started barking and woke my granddaughter up, and it’s been a big challenge, frankly,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas.
One North End resident attending the press conference said when she contacted police about fireworks in her neighborhood, officers told her there wasn’t anything they could do.
Asking for community to help solve the problem, Police Chief Eric Clifford explained why.
“Well, there’s nothing we could do because nobody is willing to help us do it. The same answer would be given if your car is broken and we had no leads to go on. It’s just a crime that we can’t solve. So if we have a member of the community that videotaped it and we can identify the person, we will follow up and we will get the warrant. A name, a description…”
Clifford said the number of complaints has tied up many officers during peak hours. Last Saturday, Clifford said there was a backlog of than 50 non-emergency complaints. However, despite the increase in complaints overall, he understood why individuals may be reluctant to contact the police.
“I understand that community members might not want to put themselves out there like that, but as members of the community there’s a responsibility to assist us with keeping our communities safe,” said Clifford.
Mayor McCarthy said he had been in conversation with the mayors of Albany and Syracuse about the fireworks issue. Police will step up patrols and enforcement, and share information as they investigate complaints.
Other possible solutions include door hangers, a tip phone and/or email line, and making referrals to an arson task force for reports of property damage from fireworks.
But city officials did not announce Wednesday an increase in fines or a change in law, though Chief Clifford offered some of his own ideas.
“We might need to look at tougher laws, we might need those community members to speak to their elected officials, speak to the judges that are on the bench to give stricter restrictions…I’m just kind of spit-balling here, I’m giving ideas that we might need because clearly the systems that we have in place right now are not working,” said Clifford.
Schenectady residents can also keep their eyes and ears open for a public service announcement related to fireworks, due to be released by the city in the coming days.