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Legalizing sale of small fireworks is back on Niagara County Legislature agenda

LOCKPORT – The question of legalizing the sale of small fireworks twice a year will come back before the Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday.

The Republican sponsors of the measure pulled it off the March 3 agenda because the votes weren’t there to pass the local law. The measure would allow the retail sale of sparklers, party poppers, snappers and other small fireworks between June 1 and July 5, for Independence Day celebrations, and from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, for New Year’s observances.

Last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a state law allowing local governments to legalize the sale of fireworks, which have been banned in New York for decades although they are legal in most states.

Local fire departments have strongly opposed the legalization, and the county’s Fire Advisory Board came out unanimously against it.

A public hearing at the Feb. 17 meeting of the Legislature drew no support at all from county citizens, with the only remarks in favor coming from representatives of the fireworks industry. Meanwhile, local fire chiefs came out to urge the Legislature to drop the legalization plan.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York issued a statement Friday continuing to oppose the proposal.

“Although there are two small windows of time that this law would allow the purchase of the fireworks, there is no limit on times that the fireworks can be used, so it can reasonably be expected that people will be stockpiling these items in their houses and garages and sheds, and perhaps their vehicles,” the association’s statement said.

The firefighters group said 34 percent of fireworks injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2011 were caused by devices that would be legalized under the county’s proposal.

“Of course, you’re going to have first responders come out against this. I would expect that,” said one of the sponsors, Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane.

“Many of the fires and emergencies our first responders encounter each year are preventable tragedies caused by the possession and use of fireworks, including sparkler devices that, while appearing innocent and harmless on their face, can burn at temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit or more,” said Robert N. McConville, president of the association.

Syracuse, who brought the proposal forward along with Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, and Legislator Anthony J. Nemi, I-Lockport, noted that at the Feb. 17 hearing, an industry spokesman said that in states where longtime bans have been reversed, such as Connecticut, the number of reported fireworks injuries has decreased.

“The gentleman came out and clearly delineated that where there’s regulation, there are fewer injuries,” Syracuse said. “People in the public don’t have a concern with the snappers, the sparklers. They don’t want it to go down the road to the M-80s.”

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said he doesn’t plan to change his opposition to the proposal.

“I’m with the Fire Advisory Board,” he said. “We asked for their advice, and they gave it to us.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com