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Legislator seeks ban on sale of sparklers: 'The little devices can create mayhem'

Feb 8, 2021

Credit freeimages.com/Daniel Carter

A Monroe County legislator is calling for a ban on the sale of sparklers, a type of fireworks device that produces a shower of sparks, sometimes a colored flame, and a crackling or whistling noise.

Democrat Rachel Barnhart said the devices are dangerous and have led to an "anything goes" culture when it comes to fireworks.

"There was no issue that prompted more phone calls to me than fireworks," said Barnhart, who represents the 21st Legislative District.

A New York state law legalizing the sale and usage of sparkling devices outside of New York City was enacted in 2017.  Since then, Barnhart said, the use of both legal and illegal fireworks have significantly reduced the quality of life for many Monroe County residents, particularly veterans and people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said the use of fireworks overall escalated last summer.

"Dense city neighborhoods experienced explosions that would go on for hours every evening," she said. "We're not talking about 10, 15 minutes of 'boom boom boom' and then it's over. We're talking about constant noise, particularly on weekend nights, that lasted for hours. It is so disruptive to people's lives."

But it's not just noise pollution that worries Barnhart and her neighbors in the Beechwood section of Rochester.

"In my district alone, we had a house burn down from an errant firework," she said. "We've had two garages that we lost. We have pets who were harmed, and we have kids in the street who are fighting with sparklers, throwing them at each other."

During the summer when she walked her dog in the evening, Barnhart said neighbors would approach her and tell her they were afraid their roofs would catch fire with fireworks exploding overhead.

"There's no question that the illegal fireworks, the stuff that you are not allowed to purchase or use in New York state, are the ones causing the most problems," she said. "But the little devices can create mayhem.

"Setting off a huge fountain or sparkler in the middle of the street in my neighborhood has a way different impact than if you do it in a rural area," Barnhart added. 

Counties can opt out of the New York law that allows sparklers to be sold to the public from June 1 to July 5 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.

Several counties have prohibited both the sale and use of the devices, including Bronx, Columbia, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Schenectady, Suffolk, Westchester, and most recently, Albany County.

Barnhart said it's time for Monroe County to be added to the list, but she stops short of calling for a ban on the use of the sparkling devices.

She said municipalities already have noise ordinances and other laws on the books regulating the use of fireworks, and a ban on usage may disproportionately target Black and brown communities.

Barnhart believes removing sparklers from store shelves is a good first step.

She said it would also clear up confusion, sometimes even among law enforcement officers, about which devices can and cannot be legally sold.