Police chief urges caution when setting off one’s own fireworks

(Paul Joffe)

In the days leading up to the Fourth of July, the soundscape of Saugerties neighborhoods will take on the seasonal symphony of crackling, banging, whistling and fizzling backyard light displays. With Independence Day approaching fast, Police Chief Joe Sinagra aims to raise awareness of the regulations placed on fireworks at the county level. According to Sinagra, six were charged with misdemeanors last year after lighting off disallowed displays.

“The signs here are ambiguous — they say “legal fireworks”, but only sparkling devices are legal, not fireworks,” said Sinagra. “There are no legal fireworks.”

While state regulations regarding the sparkling stuff vary from municipality to municipality, one prohibition remains constant throughout the state: without a permit, no one can use or sell airborne firework displays. This includes roman candles, bottle rockets, M-80’s and firecrackers. Scofflaws who choose to assert their independence by lighting them or purveying them could accrue a class B misdemeanor. Selling them to youths under 18 could even get a vendor a class E felony charge.

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Though it may seem strict, the laws within the county could be even more stringent; unlike many other regions within the state, like the entirety of New York City, “sparkling devices” have been permitted for sale and use in Ulster County for the last two years — previously, they weren’t permitted at all. According to New York Penal Law 270.00, these are “ground-based or hand-held devices that produce a shower of white, gold or colored sparks as their primary pyrotechnic effect [that] do not rise into the air, explosion or report.” (That’s the technical word for the all-consuming boom of professional fireworks, and excludes the pleasant crackling and whistling of sparkling devices that can be bought in your local grocery store). These include sparklers, sparkling fountains, snakes, screamers and party poppers.

“If you’re going to use sparkling devices, keep a bucket or a hose handy do that if a fire does start you can put it out,” suggested Sinagra. “Children should not be permitted to use sparkling devices without adult supervision.”

The penal code also regulates the sale of the aforementioned products, only allowing brick-and-mortar store to sell them between June 1 and July 5, and between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. The fireworks tents that pop up around this time of year have an even shorter window, which ends on the same day but starts on June 20. 

“The [state] Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services will be conducting inspections of the facilities and retail outlets throughout the state,” said Sinagra. “They’re inspecting them for content, the nature of specific items they have for sale, and whether or not they’re able to put out a fire if it starts, especially the tent ones.”

Those who bring illegal fireworks over state lines to use or sell can also be fined or even do jail time. Even those with licenses to do pyrotechnics need approval from unified town board members or village trustees at a formal hearing. 

“The intent of the law is not to keep people from having fun — we want to avoid those tragic stories you hear around our nation about blown off fingers, wildfires and other tragic incidents,” said Sinagra. “They’re legal in other states, but here in New York they’re not legal.”

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