The Ulster Town Board will consider ways of cracking down on the use of personal fireworks in the days leading up to and following next summer’s Independence Day after a local resident discussed her concerns before councilmen at a meeting last week.
Janet Schliff said that in the past few years, the sound of fireworks and firecrackers in her neighborhood outside of those on the 4th of July has been potentially traumatic for domestic house pets, children and people who might be suffering from post-traumatic stress.
“I’m here to advocate for a certain group of creatures, I guess,” Schliff said at a town board meeting on Thursday, July 20. “I’m going to start with where this came from in my household, which is a dog. Dogs and cats are petrified by fireworks, and we understand that they’re going to go off on July 4th. But all the days before and all the days after, some people follow the rules with that and some people do not, and the ‘do nots’ are the ones that are shooting them off way, way, way later than the curfews.”
There’s nothing specific relating to noise from fireworks in Town of Ulster municipal law, but permissible sound levels in both residential and non-residential areas fall from 72 to 66 decibels between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Enforcement of the law can result in a fine of no more than $250, up to 15 days imprisonment, or both.
But unlike the town’s Halloween curfew, which Schliff noted is advertised on the official website and in local media, area residents don’t seem to be aware of what’s permissible when it comes to noise.
“I found out there’s so many people in the neighborhoods that don’t know what the actual curfews are,” she said. “And for July 4th, it’s kind of a new concept that these fireworks are allowed to go off.”
The State of New York passed a law in 2014 allowing certain types of personal fireworks around Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, but only in counties where a local law also allowed it. In Ulster County, that local law went into effect on May 27, 2015. Temporary stands, which Schliff said she’s seen “at like every other block under the tents,” can sell their wares between June 20 and July 5 across the state.
While the state leaves it up to individual counties to decide whether to allow the sale of personal fireworks, the types of fireworks allowed to be used by the public without a special permit are regulated all across New York, except in New York City where they’re all illegal. Elsewhere, legal fireworks include sparkling fountains, sparklers on wooden sticks, smoking devices, snakes, party poppers and paper-wrapped snappers. Illegal fireworks include firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles and ground spinners.
Schliff said fireworks can be traumatizing enough when one plans for them around a specific event like the 4th of July, but they can be even more so when unexpected.
“Basically I’m speaking on behalf of the petrified animals that are going through this,” she said, adding that people with post-traumatic stress disorder and small children can also be frightened by the sudden and sound of firecrackers exploding nearby.
“When those fireworks are going off by neighbors that are not thinking about anything other than enjoying fireworks, there’s people that are dealing with PTSD,” she said. “When that goes off at an unexpected time, it’s very, very frightening. And it’s not just going on the day before and the day after. It’s happening days before and days and days after. Also, small children … I can only imagine what little children are thinking when this is going off way, way, way past bedtime.”
Town Supervisor James Quigley III said he was unaware of the issue, but said he would look into it with local law enforcement and town officials.
“You’re catching me totally by surprise,” Quigley said. “I didn’t realize the depth of the issue. We will do some research, and I ask that you call the supervisor’s office within the next two weeks, and perhaps we will be able to get some information to you, and we’ll have a discussion with the town board, once we obtain that information, to see if there’s some action plan that we can put forward.”
The next meeting of the Ulster Town Board is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 3.