As Independence Day approaches, Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith is cautioning County residents about the dangers posed by illegal fireworks. “The Fourth of July is the quintessential American holiday,” said the Sheriff, “and we Americans love to celebrate our independence and our freedom in many traditional ways: marching in or watching parades, enjoying backyard barbecues with family and friends, and ‘oohing and aahing’ at professional fireworks shows. All too often, though, the happy holiday is marred–and sometimes very tragically–by the unsafe and unlawful use of fireworks.”
The Sheriff pointed out that even relatively small kinds of fireworks, such as firecrackers or sparklers, could be dangerous, especially when used by children without adult supervision. “Firecrackers can injure fingers or break eardrums, and sparklers burn at very high temperatures that can injure the skin or eyes.” Larger, more powerful items, such as Roman candles and skyrockets, can cause even more severe injuries.
And the danger of injuries is not the only risk at stake, noted the Sheriff. “Fireworks aren’t just unsafe but, as a matter of state law, they are also illegal.”
Under the New York State Penal Law, any person who possesses, uses, or explodes any fireworks is guilty of a violation. The law defines fireworks to include firecrackers and sparklers. Violations are punishable by up to fifteen days in jail or a fine of up to $250 for each offense.
The criminal penalties are even more severe for people who offer fireworks for sale, or sell or furnish any fireworks to another person. Selling–or even giving away–fireworks to someone else is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $500. Offering to sell, selling or furnishing more than $500 worth of fireworks is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
Selling or furnishing “dangerous fireworks”–which are defined by law to include larger firecrackers and sparklers more than ten inches long or one-quarter inch thick–to a person under the age of eighteen is a class A misdemeanor. A first offense carries a possible one-year jail term and a maximum fine of $1,000. A repeat offense committed within five years of a previous conviction is a felony under the law, which could result in a state prison term of up to four years and a fine of up to $5,000.
Around every Fourth of July, the Sheriff’s Department receives a large volume of noise complaints from residents complaining of persons setting off firecrackers in their neighborhoods. In other less frequent cases, the Department investigates complaints of vandalism involving fireworks, such as the use of “M-80’s” to damage property, such as mailboxes. In those kinds of cases, the offenders could face arrest for criminal mischief, as well as for unlawful possession of fireworks.
Sheriff Smith noted that, in addition to facing criminal sanctions, people who sell or furnish fireworks to others could find themselves defending against civil lawsuits if those fireworks cause injuries to persons or property. “Any way you look at them–criminally, civilly, or as a matter of health and safety–fireworks are a risky thing.”
“One of the goals of the Sheriff’s Department, and what I consider to be an important part of its mission, is to educate our citizens about the law and to raise people’s awareness about safety issues,” said the Sheriff. “When it comes to fireworks and the Fourth of July, our message is not intended to dampen the community’s celebration in any way, but is meant to ensure that the celebration is lawful and safe for everyone.”
The Sheriff said that he hopes people would leave the fireworks displays to licensed professionals this upcoming holiday. “Officially sponsored and professionally performed pyrotechnic shows are scheduled in our area for the Fourth of July celebration,” said the Sheriff, “and I encourage everyone to go out and enjoy those marvelous shows without risking their safety, which is our main concern.”