Here’s the deal on NY fireworks laws

Sparking devices went for clearance prices on last day to sell them legally

Skyrockets like this, seen exploding over Raquette Pond as Tupper Lake celebrated Independence Day Wednesday night, are legal for professionals like those who put on this show but illegal for anyone else. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

It’s an annual occurrence marking the Fourth of July. Fireworks stands start popping up on roadsides, selling colorful ground explosives, spark shooters and other pyrotechnic goodies.

Friday was the last day they were allowed to operate, and tents in the Tri-Lakes were liquidating their products with sales — 50% off all products.

Even though these stands are now an expected part of the holiday, they only started arriving in New York recently. In 2014 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing the sale and use of sparkling devices in New York, after vetoing several previous versions of the bill.

The bill excluded sparkling devices and small pyrotechnic novelties from the term “fireworks,” with the exception of cities with a population of a million or more. Cuomo approved it after a change requiring counties and cities to opt in to allowing fireworks sales was added. However, in 2017 the state Legislature passed a law changing it so counties have to opt out, which has led to around 10 more counties selling fireworks than before.

Fireworks companies, including TNT Fireworks and the American Pyrotechnics Organization, had lobbied for the ability to sell their products in New York. A 4% sales tax on sparkling devices helped get that law passed.

Charlie Fisk of Saranac Lake holds a Flying Betsy sparkling fountain at his Saranac Lake Keystone Fireworks stand Friday. These types of spark-throwing fountains were legalized for sale and use in New York in 2014. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Sparkling devices can range from handheld stick sparklers to the spark fountains that launch colored sparks 30 feet overhead. New York has a cap on fountains limiting them to containing 500 grams of combustible material. All these devices have to be ground-based — nothing that launches into the air and explodes like Roman candles, bottle rockets or firecrackers.

Keystone Fireworks route manager Ezekiel Mendoza said while New Yorkers travel to Vermont to buy aerial fireworks, Vermonters travel to New York for their ground shows.

Sales are limited to between June 1 and 5, for Independence Day and between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, for New Year’s Even. Temporary stands or tents are limited to between June 20 and July 5, and between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. That is why these tents are an annual occurrence, and a big deal for anyone looking to stock up on combustibles.

Tent management

Robert Oxenfort of Utica sets up a Keystone Fireworks sale tent in Tupper Lake on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The tents in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are both run by Keystone Fireworks from Pennsylvania and managed by Mendoza, who said he manages eight tents in the North Country and has worked for the company for three years. On Wednesday he was helping to set up a tent in the Tupper Lake Kinney Drugs parking lot after a delay. The tent was up and running in time for Tupper Lake’s annual Third of July celebration.

Mendoza came to the North Country from Texas when his brother in the Army moved to Fort Drum. While running a tent in Watertown last year, his parents came up to visit, and after another employee did not show up, they ended up helping out. Now they run a tent in Lowville, he said.

Mendoza said he keeps coming back to the job because the money is good and he wants to move up in the company. Next he would like to become a coordinator, setting up agreements with property owners to use their parking lots as tent sites and coordinating inspections with the fire marshals in the area.

Official, professionally launched fireworks are reflected in Lake Flower Thursday night in the village of Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Hard work to bring joy

Charlie Fisk and his wife Christina run the Saranac Lake tent in the Taylor Rental parking lot with the help of Fisk’s teenage cousins Phillippe and Travis Goff.

Fisk is from Saranac Lake but for years helped a friend in Plattsburgh run a stand. Now he is running his own stand in his own town for the first time. He said it is a quick job with good pay, but that is not the only thing that has kept him coming back to it.

“You get to see all the friendly faces, the smiles on kids’ faces, and that really brightens your day up,” Fisk said. “And adults. I see 50- to 60-year-old adults come in here, and they’re just like a kid in a candy store. They love it.”

Fisk said he appreciates it, too. For safety reasons, he is required to be at the tent 24 hours a day for the whole week of sales, through any weather that comes along. He said he only left the care of the stand to his wife for an hour or two to take a shower at home.

After he locks up the gate at night, he sleeps in a camp chair, or at least he tries to. The stand is around 30 feet from state Route 86

“You don’t sleep soundly, and I actually went two days where I didn’t sleep at all,” Fisk said. “It’s hard.”

After he finishes the job, Fisk gets to have some fun. He said he buys the fountains and explosives he has not set off yet and tests them out himself so he knows what they do for next year.

He said he appreciates New York allowing him to sell fireworks but hopes to be able to sell things like bottle rockets in the future.

What is illegal?

There are still a lot of rules governing the sale and use of fireworks and sparkling devices. According to state Penal Law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy or use any type of device, even handheld sparklers. Anyone who sells or furnishes them to adolescents has committed a misdemeanor. Repeat offenders within five years have committed a felony.

It is a misdemeanor offense to sell or furnish “fireworks or dangerous fireworks,” which sparkling devices are exempt from.

People in possession of fireworks or dangerous fireworks valued at $150 or more are presumed to be intending to sell them.

People who possess or set off fireworks or dangerous fireworks are guilty of a violation.

It’s obvious that plenty of people are breaking these laws, since explosions could be heard and skyrockets seen all over Tri-Lakes communities before and after the official fireworks shows. But reported fires and injuries are rare, and local police usually don’t go out of their way to crack down on fireworks.

“We don’t go crazy as far as enforcement goes around the Fourth of July,” Tupper Lake police Sgt. Jordan Nason said.

He said his department issued no fireworks tickets this year.

“If we write five in a year, that’s a lot,” he said.

He said his department does not patrol for firework launches but does respond to calls and complaints. He said often when they show up, things are handled verbally, with a reminder of the law, unless someone is being a nuisance.