Fireworks shows are few and far between this Fourth of July, yet another reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still in our midst. There is only one show on the East End, the Southampton Fresh Air Home display on Sunday night, and Suffolk County officials are working extra hard to caution residents against trying to light up the sky themselves.
“We know people are looking for things to celebrate and Fourth of July weekend gives a great reason: Celebrate our Independence, celebrate America’s birthday. That is a great time to celebrate, but we must do it safely,” County Executive Steve Bellone said at a press conference on the grounds of the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank Thursday.
Fireworks may be an annual tradition, “but it’s critically important that we recognize the potentially disastrous consequences when non-professionals are utilizing illegal fireworks,” he said, just before fire officials detonated a collection of pyrotechnics in a camper, showcasing the dangers and destruction of fireworks.
Statewide there has been a dramatic increase in complaints over illegal fireworks, which include firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, spinners and other aerial devices. Nassau County police reported a 400 percent spike. While the number is not quite as high in Suffolk, police are receiving more reports than usual.
County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said police across Suffolk will be out in force this weekend looking to track down the use, sale, and possession of illegal fireworks. Offenders can face charges from violations to felonies. The possession of 10 M-80 fireworks can result in a felony under the state Labor Law for possession of an explosive device, he said.
While elsewhere in the state permits the sale of sparkling devices—often called sparklers—they are illegal on Long Island. It is illegal for anyone under 18 years of age to use sparkling devices in New York State. Sparkling devices are ground-based or handheld sparking devices that produce a shower of colored sparks or colored flame and a crackling or whistling noise and smoke, from June 1 to July 5. They can burn in excess 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Many people think they are harmless,” Cameron said. “They do cause a lot of second degree burn injuries to children.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that on average 230 people go to the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries on Fourth of July weekend. Between 2012 and 2019, 126 fireworks-related deaths were reported. Last year, the commission estimated 10,000 fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries.
In addition to injuries, fireworks can also lead to fires. While it rained on Long Island this week, conditions have been dry, and there are active wildfires elsewhere in the state. “Recognizing the temptation to set off fireworks this weekend, DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to remember that in addition to being dangerous and in some cases, illegal, fireworks can start wildfires,” Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.
“Leave the fireworks to the professionals,” Bellone said. “I cannot emphasize that enough. The Fourth of July, particularly this Fourth of July is a time for us to celebrate as a community what we have accomplished, how far we have come to overcome this virus. But it’s also a time to remind ourselves to be safe and continue to act smartly.”
Officials also urged residents to remember the pandemic is far from over. Wearing masks and social distancing is still necessary.
“We need to stay on track. That’s very important. This is one of those weekends we are going to be watching closely to see if progress we have made continues. I firmly believe, and I’m very confident, that it will continue,” Bellone said.
“We do not want to backslide and lose all the progress that we made,” Cameron said.
Going to the holiday weekend, the police chief said he is concerned that people will overindulge more than ever after being cooped up at home during the quarantine. “Fun can turn into tragedy very quickly if you’re not very, very cautious. One of the commonalities that can turn fun into tragedy is the use of alcohol,” he said.
Officials pointed to Sunday just last weekend when several people lost their lives while trying to have fun. Two people died in an ATV crash in Brentwood and a man died when two boats collided on the Great South Bay. Also, over the weekend, 17 people were treated for a carbon monoxide exposure on a boat in Port Jefferson. The Marine Bureau ended up siting them for not having an adequate amount of flotation devices on board.