Supes cool to legalizing fireworks

HUDSON–The possibility of legalizing the sale of fireworks inside Columbia County dominated the County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday, February 18.

Since last year, New York State has allowed counties to permit the retail sale of certain types of fireworks between June 1 and July 5 and between December 26 to January 2. So far 35 of the state’s 57 counties have done so, including Dutchess, Greene, Rensselaer and Ulster. Under the state law, in order to purchase fireworks a person must be at least 18 years-old. Sellers must register with both the state and the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Last year Columbia County considered legalizing firework sales but held off. This year the push for legal fireworks sales has resurfaced full force, with the proposed legalization legislation called Columbia County Sparkling Device Law. To advocate for the proposal Vincent Szabo, account manager for Phantom Fireworks, and Wayne Lair, Jr. of Statewide Public Affairs, Inc. attended the committee meeting. Mr. Szabo opened the topic with a presentation.

The types of fireworks New York has authorized for retail sale since last year, according to Mr. Szabo’s presentation, include cylinder fountains, cone fountains, party poppers, snappers, and wooden sparklers. Still illegal in New York would be aerial devices, bottle rockets, firecrackers, ground spinners, and Roman candles.

Forty-seven states now allow the sale of some kind of fireworks, up from 30 to 35 in the year 2000. Supervisor Don Moore (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) asked if there has been “standardization” across state lines as to which types of fireworks are legal to sell.

“No,” acknowledged Mr. Lair. Even the definition of “safe and sane” awarded to some types of fireworks differs from state to state, said Mr. Szabo.

Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) asked about stray sparks from fireworks causing vegetation fires. Mr. Szabo emphasized that the allowed fireworks can be extinguished by water.

“Have you had incidents where people buy safe and sane fireworks, took them home and turned them into something unsafe and insane?” asked Supervisor Mike Benvenuto (R-Ghent), chairman of the committee.

“I know of no incident,” answered Mr. Szabo. “It would require a huge quantity. $800 to get a bang.”

Supervisor Kippy Weigelt (R-Claverack) asked whether upon legalization, “you see an increase in fireworks used?”

“Only in the first few years is there a surge,” Mr. Szabo said.

To sell fireworks, retailers typically pay $250 for each tent, $2,500 for each brick-and-mortar location, and sales tax. Mr. Szabo said Phantom’s goal is to establish three fireworks-selling tents per county and that it has two major competitors in the region. However, non-profit organizations may also sell fireworks from tents. These organizations include firemen’s associations. In California, non-profit organizations run 75% of firework-selling tents.

Mr. Moore asked about statistics on injuries from fireworks. Mr. Szabo and Mr. Lair said that of all types of injuries around the 4th of July, most come from sports, the second largest amount come from grills, and only a small fraction come from fireworks. The two advocates distributed a chart that used information from the Office of Statistics, National Center for Injury Prevention that used data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). For 2014, it showed baseball equipment causing 130,000 injuries; ranges, ovens, grills and fire pits 48,000 injuries; and fireworks 10,500 injuries—throughout the year, not just in 4th of July week.

But county Fire Coordinator William Hunt read excerpts from a compilation also based on CPSC data. He said that in 2011 there were an estimated 9,000 fireworks related injuries and 17,800 fires reported that were ignited by fireworks. “Fireworks are riskier than cigarettes. Safe and sane are neither. They can cause sparks and go to high temperatures. Safe and sane fireworks cause more injuries than illegal fireworks, especially with pre-school children. When things go wrong with fireworks, they go wrong real fast.”

Tom Rector, president of the Columbia County Fire Chiefs Association, backed him up. As one supervisor said, “Firefighters take their lives in their hands when they go to fires.”

But Supervisor John Reilly (R-Gallatin) said, “Would you prefer your children use fireworks at your home under your supervision or go to other counties and use them not under your supervision? When we were kids, if we couldn’t do something at home, we did it in the woods and fields. I’m a realist.”

Mr. Benvenuto concluded, “It’s not something we should vote on tonight. There are as much injuries from safe and sane fireworks as from firecrackers. I suggest we table it.”

The next Public Safety Committee meeting will take place Thursday, March 17 at 401 State Street in Hudson.

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