It’s almost the Fourth of July, and what better way to celebrate your freedom than to risk burning your house down?
Just kidding. I’m not here to talk about whether fireworks are appropriate or safe, or whether they should be featured at your cookout. It’s not my place to say whether you should abstain out of respect for skittish pets, sick neighbors or veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m here to help you get your hands on the goods.
What you can buy: "Sparkling devices," which are defined by the state as “ground based or handheld devices that produce a shower of colored sparks and or a colored flame, audible crackling or whistling noise and smoke.” For the most part, they’re on a wooden stick that’s stuck in the ground. Whatever you do, don't call them "fireworks." Fireworks are still illegal.
Where you can buy them: The State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has a complete list of all the registered vendors of “sparkling devices” in each county on its website. On the list are certain Tops, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Big Lots, BJ’s, Target, Walgreens and Dollar General stores, plus pop-up locations run by out-of-state companies such as Phantom Fireworks.
Pro tip: When shopping for sparklers, look for QR codes on the outside of the package. If you have a QR code reader app on your smartphone, you can scan it and watch a video of the product in action. That way, you’ll get to see what the display will look like, and how long you might expect it to last.
When you can buy them: Only around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. Permanent and specialty stores can sell them from June 1 to July 5 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Pop-up stands can sell them from June 20 to July 5 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
What you can’t buy: Firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, spinners, M-80s or aerial devices. Handheld sparklers, the ones you remember twirling around when you were a kid, are legal as long as they’re wooden. Metal ones are illegal.
Age restrictions: If you want to buy or use sparklers, you must be 18 years old. Selling fireworks to someone younger is a class A misdemeanor. Doing it a second time is a class E felony. Even letting your kids throw some bang snaps or wave some handheld sparklers is off limits.
How they became legal: In 2014, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the purchase, sale and use of ground fireworks legal in counties outside of New York City as long as that county opted in, which 40 of them did. In 2017, the law changed so that ground fireworks are legal unless counties opt out of selling them. So far, only three counties have done that, and none of them are in Western New York.
Safety first: Making fireworks legal doesn’t make them safe. Read the instructions on the box and follow them. Don’t use them when you’ve been drinking. Wear safety goggles, light one sparkler at a time and move away quickly. Never relight a “dud,” and know that “dead” fireworks can reignite at any time. Keep a fire extinguisher and charged hose handy. Make sure fireworks are out by waiting 20 minutes, then dunking them in a bucket of water.
Note: There are still noise ordinances.