Fireworks are fun, but leave them to the professionals, says Ithaca fire department

July 1, 2015 by Rachel Cera

With the Independence Day holiday approaching, Ithaca and New York State authorities are reaching out to remind residents that state law restricts possession and use of fireworks. For the first time in more than a century, New York State residents can light up more than sparklers legally, but under strict conditions.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in November allowing the sale of small fireworks to consumers, but the new law gives counties the final say. Lt. Thomas T. Basher Jr. of the Ithaca Fire Department says, "While about half of the counties in New York State have chosen to allow the regulated sale of some fireworks, Tompkins County has opted out."

Elsewhere in the state, according to Ithaca Fire Department, consumer fireworks can be sold in counties that opt in from June 1st to July 5th, and then again for the holidays from December 26th to January 2nd. State laws as of 2009 also give local municipalities authority to issue permits for fireworks displays at private events such as weddings and parties.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, thousands of people are injured while using consumer fireworks every 4th of July holiday, and more fires are reported on July 4th in the U.S. than any other day of the year. The organization says an estimated 8,700 consumers were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries in 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"We've had some near misses when fireworks were shot off and landed near a building causing a fire," Chief Tom Parsons of the Ithaca Fire Department told us last summer. "We had one last year up on Eddy Street, and three years ago a similar incident up on Oak Ave. In both cases, the fireworks were shot off, landed in someone else's back yard, and no one followed up where they landed until a passerby noticed smoke and/or flames."

"Even though in some places certain types of fireworks are legal, we are urging New Yorkers to be smart and leave the fireworks to the professionals," said Firemen's Association of the State of New York president Robert McConville. "Don't let an injury or fire ruin your Fourth of July Holiday. Instead, take in one of the hundreds of public fireworks displays available throughout the state."

Even sparklers "burn at up to 1,800 degrees," according to the IFD's Tom Basher, "and if you have children running around with them, they can cause burns to their hands and start fires."

Community fireworks shows in the Ithaca area include Ithaca's annual community fireworks show on Wednesday evening at Stewart Park, Lansing's annual fireworks show Friday at Myers Park, and Candor's fireworks show on Thursday at dusk.

Ithaca's community fireworks show reached its fundraising goal when Mayor Svante Myrick's re-election campaign donated $500 yesterday. The show is scheduled for 9:45pm on Wednesday at Stewart Park, with festivities starting at 6pm.

Event organizers suggest parking at Boynton Middle School or Ithaca High School and walking over to the park, or taking a free bus from downtown. Parking downtown is free at metered spaces after 6pm and in City-owned garages after 8pm.

TCAT says they will have buses with "Fireworks" on the destination sign picking up passengers starting at 6pm, at the Albany Street and State Street stop and at the Seneca Street and Green Street bus stations. The free fireworks buses will also stop at intersections along North Cayuga Street, but "only as far as Lincoln Street," according to TCAT. "There will be no pick up/drop off service from Lincoln Street to Stewart Park."

TCAT says the bus service to Stewart Park will end at 9:30pm, just before the fireworks are scheduled to begin, and ask that passengers immediately head to the pick-up area at the entryway circle as soon as the fireworks show is over for a ride back.

The waterfront pedestrian trail from Newman Municipal Golf Course to Stewart Park will close at 9pm and reopen after the fireworks show. The fireworks will be launched from the golf course again this year.

FASNY offers some tips for safe fireworks enjoyment:

  • Obey and respect any safety barriers set up around a fireworks show site.
  • Don't bring pets. The loud noises can scare animals or damage their hearing.
  • Don't possess or shoot off fireworks on your own. You risk injury to yourself and your friends, and you're breaking the law.
  • Don't attempt to pick up and re-light used fireworks. They may still be active and can cause serious burns.
  • Often, the best view of a professional fireworks display is from a quarter mile or more away.

In our area, counties that have opted in to allow sales of sparkler type fireworks include Chemung, Cortland, Schuyler, and Steuben. If you're traveling, note that FAA rules prohibit carrying fireworks of any kind, even the smallest sparklers, in either checked or carry-on baggage.

Parsons says Ithaca neighborhoods have been lucky in recent incidents. "Both fires were put out before they spread to a building," he says. "The lesson to be taken away from all this is that when people launch fireworks there is no telling where they will land, and sometimes unintended fires are started that can endanger other people's homes and lives."

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