November 29, 2021

Prepping for July Fourth pyrotechnics

First responders on standby for holiday celebrations

Photos by Kevin Conlon/city editor

Clerks staff the TNT tent in the parking lot of the Walmart on Bennie Road in Cortlandville. New York law restricts what kind of fireworks can be purchased and used in the state, and police will investigate people who set off illegal fireworks.

The boom, buzzing, hissing or crackling right before the glimmer of the sparkles in the sky is usually a sign that the Fourth of July is right around the corner.

The noises have been heard across the country for days, even weeks, leading up to the holiday. The increased usage of fireworks has raised concerns from officials in some cities like Syracuse and elsewhere across America, where officers have begun investigating the use of illegal fireworks.

The city of Cortland Police Department has been receiving about three to four phone calls a day regarding fireworks, said Lt. David Guerrera.

“That’s normal for us, nothing like they’re having in Syracuse, New York City or Washington where it’s almost like a war with people setting them off,” he said.

But not everybody. Lisa Bengeyfield of Moravia was at the TNT tent in the parking lot of Walmart on Bennie Road in Cortlandville on Monday, buying legal sparklers for her children.

“I just wanted to get some sparklers for my kids,” Bengeyfield said. She prefers them because she feels they’re safer than larger ones.


Mind the pets

• Leave pets at home when you go to parties, fireworks displays, parades or loud gatherings, all of which can frighten a pet.

• Consider putting your pets in a safe, escape-proof room or crate during parties and fireworks.

• Keep horses and livestock in safely fenced areas and as far from the excitement and noise as possible.

• Keep sparklers, glow sticks, fireworks, charcoal and kabob skewers away from curious pets.

• Turn on some soft music and move your pet into an interior room with no windows.

• An anxiety vest may work in some cases — if you don’t have one, try a snug-fitting T-shirt.

• If you and your veterinarian decide anti-anxiety medication is the best route, give a practice dose before the big night to see how your pet responds. Never share the medication with another pet or give more than the recommended amount.

• Some dogs will eat anything, regardless of how it tastes — including fireworks, which contain several chemicals and heavy metals. If you set off fireworks at home, thoroughly clean the area before letting your dog have access.

Sources: American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and American Veterinary Medical Association.


Some calls to police have come about legal fireworks, but most are about people shooting off illegal ones.

In fact, Guerrera said police received a tip over the weekend regarding someone being able to buy illegal fireworks in the state. He said officers will investigate and make sure whoever sells fireworks sells only legal ones.

“We try to identify who has them and try to make an arrest if possible,” he said.

But an arrest can be hard to make, said Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms, who is preparing to increase patrols over the holiday weekend to find those using illegal fireworks.

“By the time we get there, they’re usually done,” Helm said. Then, he said, the officer must prove the noise was a firework and who specifically had it.

“A lot of times it’s hard to prove,” he said. “If we have enough to make arrests, then we do.”

Lisa Bengeyfield, right, of Moravia, buys sparklers Monday for her children outside the Walmart in Cortlandville.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that state troopers will form a detail until Friday to stop people from bringing in illegal fireworks from Pennsylvania. In fact, a Tully man was charged Sunday in Broome County after troopers found him with $2,700 worth of fireworks.

The hope is to curb the use of illegal fireworks in many areas, especially residential settings, which can affect people’s pets and veterans.

“It does affect a lot of veterans,” said Norm Stitzel, a vet and the founder of Veteran Search and Rescue, which connects veterans with community resources. “Of course, dogs and veterans are going to act a little different.”

Many veterans will try to avoid an area if they know fireworks are planned to go off, but the hard part is when they unexpectedly begin going off in their neighborhoods.

“The boom of it going up and the boom going off is enough to trigger someone,” he said.

However, the other concern is how dangerous fireworks can be. If not done properly, they can cause minor to serious burns, said city fire Capt. Colleen Price.

“If you think about sparklers, they’re close to 2,000 degrees when those little sparks go off,” she said.

Most sparkling devices, which are allowed in the state, aren’t meant to be held in someone’s hands when you set them off, she said, so preparing an area to set them off is important.

The area should be raked and free of material that could catch fire. It should be dampened, too.

“Put them in a solid container like a planter full of sand,” Price said. A “sandy spot is a good way to make sure you’re not lighting grass on fire.”

She also said have a hose or fire extinguisher on hand.

“I’ve had them done in my area and I find remnants of the stuff on my roof or in my driveway there’s always the possibility of setting something on fire,” Stitzel said.

If you do burn yourself and it’s minor, you want to cool the burn, but if it’s major and swelling begins, then call 911. Price also said don’t wear jewelry like rings when handling devices because swelling could make it hard to get the jewelry off.