Standing before a table packed with dangerous fireworks, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday urged residents to be safe and responsible this Fourth of July weekend, while reminding them authorities would be out in force to clamp down on operating cars and boats under the influence, as well as for using illegal fireworks.
The news conference, held at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank, also featured Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison, Suffolk Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Pat Beckley, and Gina Lieneck, whose 11-year-old daughter was killed in a tragic boating accident in Great South Bay in 2005. The girl's death led to the implementation of state boating safety legislation known as Brianna's Law in 2020.
"If you're going to be out celebrating the Fourth of July we want you to do it responsibly and safely," Bellone said, adding: "If you are drinking, have a plan."
Bellone urged celebrants to act responsibly, while noting there would be increased holiday patrols — both on land and on the water — cracking down on impaired driving, boat operation, safety infractions and use of illegal fireworks.
"Police will be out there in force this weekend," Bellone said. "Every year, we see significant, serious injuries. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. These are powerful, these are dangerous … We don't want to see a fun day turned into a tragic event."
Beckley said national statistics showed fireworks-related injuries had doubled during the COVID pandemic and that fatalities had increased 50%.
Harrison noted that last year a child was wounded in Suffolk when a "mortar" exploded "in his face" and a man was injured when a firecracker "blew up in his hand."
"If handled incorrectly it [fireworks] could be a recipe for disaster," Harrison said, urging anyone witnessing the use of illegal fireworks to call 911.
Police also will take part in a national water safety campaign this weekend called "Operation Dry Water," which seeks to crack down on boaters operating under the influence.
As Gina Lieneck said: "We all want people to go out and have a good time with their families, but we don't want it to end in tragedy … Please do not drink or be under the influence of drugs. You're literally setting a course for tragedy. I don't want to see the tragedy that happened to my family happen to anyone else."
Officials urged anyone on the water to wear life jackets and to obey all maritime navigation rules. They also urged residents to be careful while using barbecue grills, and to be diligent when it comes to backyard pool and water safety.
"Keep an eye on children, keep an eye on the elderly, keep an eye on people who have a mental disability," Harrison said.