By Michael DePietro
Interim Tribune Editor
As the Fourth of July approaches, many residents throughout Niagara County say they are fed up with the barrage of fireworks going off at all hours of the night. Community Facebook forums are filled with countless posts by angry residents who want law enforcement to do more to take care of the problem.
While the problem arises every year, this year seems to be much worse. Capt. Karen Smith of the North Tonawanda Police Department says the city has seen an uptick in nuisance complaints about fireworks. In Niagara Falls, police Lt. Mike Corcoran says while the department’s call volume about fireworks is about the same as last year, he has personally noticed a dramatic uptick in the complaints on social media.
Both agree that increase is probably due to the lack of official fireworks displays in the area. Many cities and towns in Niagara County canceled their fireworks displays in response to COVID-19.
But it’s not just local residents who are annoyed. The problem appears to be rampant not only throughout New York state, but across the country, as well.
According to CNN, complaints about illegal fireworks in Boston were up 2,300% in May compared to last year, while complaints in Pasadena, California, were up 400%.
Phantom Fireworks Vice President Bill Weimeralso said “the demand and the business we’ve seen so far has been the strongest early fireworks season I’ve seen in my years of involvement in the fireworks business.”
The fireworks that residents report hearing at night are illegal in New York state and are largely trafficked in from nearby states with looser firework restrictions – like Pennsylvania. New York state law allows for the sale and use of a specific category of consumer fireworks known as sparkling devices. According to the law, “sparkling devices are ground based or handheld devices that produce a shower of colored sparks and or a colored flame, audible crackling or whistling noise and smoke. These devices do not rise into the air, do not fire inserts or projectiles into the air, and do not explode or produce a report (explosive sound).”
During a press conference earlier this week in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the problem also persists in Albany where he lives. He took measures to address the issue of illegal fireworks by announcing a statewide fireworks enforcement detail.
“I want to remind New Yorkers that fireworks are dangerous and fireworks are illegal. Some nights in New York City, it sounds like the Wild West with all the fireworks going off. I’ve never heard it like this before. They’re disturbing. They bother people. And they are dangerous. And children, people, get hurt every year,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said the fireworks enforcement detail – comprised of state officials and state police – would be working with municipalities across the state to put a stop to the trafficking of illegal fireworks.
“We’re going to try to prevent the fireworks from coming into the state in the first place before they get distributed,” the governor said, adding, “The primary supplier for New York state is the state of Pennsylvania. Not the state itself, but fireworks companies within the state of Pennsylvania. And we’re going to be focusing on that route for the transmission of the fireworks. We’ll also be helping local governments deal with this issue, but I need the local governments in this state to take it seriously. I know there’s a lot going on a lot of levels, but this is illegal and it’s dangerous, so we have to stop it.”
While many firework fanatics suggest critics are just being wet blankets, the truth is that the fireworks aren’t just annoying. Pets, specifically dogs, have more sensitive ears and the explosion from fireworks can be incredibly traumatic. The sounds and lights can also have a triggering effect for soldiers afflicted with PTSD.
Fireworks also pose a major fire hazard. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks are responsible for over 18,500 fires each year. Thankfully, fire departments in the Town of Niagara and North Tonawanda reported they have not had any fireworks-related accidents this year. However, in the City of Niagara Falls, a post on The Action Facebook page showed pictures of a garage fire in the city from early June with the cause purportedly being from fireworks.
The Tribune reached out to the Niagara Falls Fire Department for comment and feedback, but has not received a response.
Police throughout the area say they understand the community’s frustrations and work their best to stop it. Corcoran and Smith both urge residents to contact law enforcement as soon as they see or hear illegal fireworks. Corcoran said to be specific as possible when filing a complaint.
“If the person’s wearing a red shirt, or if it’s coming from a specific house, or if there’s a specific house in the area where they keep going off… something to look for when we’re responding to a call or out on patrol,” Corcoran said.
For pet owners whose furry friends are upset by fireworks, the ASPCA website has some useful tips:
√ Turning on some soft music and moving your pet into a room with no windows;
√ An anxiety vest or a snugly fitting T-shirt can often help a pet remain calm; and
√ If the problem is egregious, speak to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication.
The ASPCA also urges pet owners to be careful about fireworks casings found outside as they contain dangerous chemicals and heavy metals that could be harmful if swallowed by a pet.
To better aid military veterans suffering from PTSD, the Veteran’s Affairs website has some useful tips to help make sure they feel safe:
√ Ask guests ahead of time if they have difficulty around the holiday;
√ If a veteran friend or family member is alarmed by the loud sound of fireworks, suggest your group use sparklers instead; and
√ Consider reducing or removing substances such as alcohol from 4th of July events.
For veterans feeling anxious about fireworks and other Fourth of July activities, there are many helpful videos and tips available at www.maketheconnection.net/symptoms/hypervigilance.