Public Angered Over Falmouth Fourth of July Fireworks Display

2013 Falmouth Fireworks as seen from the Falmouth Heights Beach.
GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - 2013 Falmouth Fireworks as seen from the Falmouth Heights Beach.

“Best fireworks I ever HEARD!!” wrote Susan J. Batemen of Leonora Avenue, East Falmouth, at 10:30 on Thursday evening, shortly after the fireworks show off Falmouth Heights Beach had ended.

The statement, made on the Falmouth Fireworks Facebook page, summed up the public’s reaction to the annual event that caps the July 4 holiday.

Although the event has had a long and storied history—in 2009 Travel + Leisure named it one of the 10 best displays in the country—last Thursday it fell short of that mark, thanks to a dense fog that made for difficult viewing for the public that showed up to cap off the day to watch some fireworks from the beach.

Many were disappointed and took to the social media site to vent their frustrations with the all-volunteer committee that helps organize and fund the event through private donations.

“I can’t believe they let the fireworks go on and didn’t wait until Friday Evening,” wrote Stephen Bowen of Boston. “Could not see them at all, very disappointing, what a waste of money...”

“Very disappointed at opening [of] great pond - can’t see much of anything...,” chimed in Janice Gildawie of Sally Lane, East Falmouth.

And so it went for much of the night for the Falmouth Fireworks Committee, which was the recipient of numerous complaints from an angry public that took time to vent their frustration via Facebook.

“I was both amused at reading the comments because some were so clever, but I also felt sorry for the committee because they were getting an earful from everybody,” said Alyson E. Benoit of Pinyon Way, East Falmouth, who posted her own on Friday afternoon that came to their defense, noting that it was a difficult decision on whether to postpone the fireworks or not. “It still wasn’t a great call, but I wish the committee the best and commend your fine efforts to bring quality fireworks to Falmouth through many great years,” she wrote.

Fireworks a Holiday Staple

Yesterday Ms. Benoit said she has largely been impressed with the fireworks over the years and was looking to enjoy last week’s with her husband, Thomas A. Benoit, at their typical spot on the beach at the end of Maravista Avenue.

But as the couple walked down the street, she said, they began to notice “it was foggy and as we got closer we saw people walking back even before we got there. People were giving up before it had even started. We persevered and went down there.”

Although they watched the first fireworks go off, Ms. Benoit said, they left soon thereafter when they realized “you couldn’t see a thing except glowing colors behind the fog bank.” That, combined with the winds and chilly temperatures, convinced them to leave in order to beat the traffic.

I was both amused at reading the comments because some were so clever, but I also felt sorry for the committee because they were getting an earful from everybody.

 

              Alyson Benoit

“My first reaction, internally, was what a waste of money to set it off when no one could have seen it. They could have waited one day for a rain date and it would have been perfect,” she said. “I was more confused, not upset.”

Janice M. Heckler Souweine of East Harbor Drive, Teaticket, had a similar reaction to the decision to go on with the show.

She had intended to watch the fireworks following the Falmouth Commodores game, but upon driving down to Falmouth Harbor by the Clam Shack and then to Surf Drive, “I saw it was totally fogged in so gave up and went home.”

She was surprised that the show continued, noting that part of the public’s anger was that no one on the committee took time to explain their rationale or apologize to the public.

“The fireworks has been a tradition for many, many years,” she said. “You spend the evening on the beach with family and friends and it is truly a family-friendly event and is the culmination of the 4th of July.”

On Friday morning members of the Falmouth Fireworks Committee, including its chairman, Joseph (Dutch) Drolette Jr., and Arthur R. Ratsy were joined at the Enterprise’s office by Stephen T. Pelkey, owner of Atlas PyroVision Productions of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, the company that produces the annual show.

The three explained that the difficult decision to put on the fireworks without delay was based on multiple factors, the most important being the cost.

Economics of Putting on Fireworks Show

Mr. Drolette said the actual show itself costs $50,000 to produce, money that is all raised through donations. This year, he said, “we were short.”

That money covers everything from Atlas PyroVision’s expertise to the barge going from New Bedford to Falmouth Heights to manning the barge to the sound system and entertainment at the Falmouth Heights ballfield.

To extend that another day, Mr. Pelkey estimated it would cost roughly $10,000. Add in the costs to cover the police and fire details—Mr. Drolette said the first night is covered by the town while the second night would have to be covered by the committee—and Mr. Pelkey estimated those expenses would increase to between $25,000 and $30,000.

“It gets incredibly expensive,” Mr. Ratsy said. “We just don’t have that kind of money.”

“It is a significant number,” Mr. Pelkey said. “And the committee is faced with the daunting decision of ‘Do we go or don’t go?’ ”

Complicating the decision-making process are Massachusetts and US Coast Guard regulations, which require that once fireworks have been loaded onto a barge, the “barge does not move. You either remove them manually from the tubes if you can or fire them off. Manually unloading them comes close to the cost of the fireworks show at that point,” Mr. Pelkey said.

At the end of the day no one wants to put on a bad show.

 

            Stephen Pelkey

And, of course, weather can play a major role. “In evaluating fog it is never an exact science,” Mr. Pelkey said. “It is one of the least predictable weather conditions out there. It comes and goes. It sleeps where it wants to sleep and sits where it wants to sit.”

Many other Cape communities, including Hyannis, Edgartown and Harwich, elected to go on with their shows despite the presence of fog. Only Nantucket delayed them one night, and the additional costs, Mr. Pelkey said, were covered by a wealthy donor.

Until about 6:30 PM, the trio said, the weather conditions were perfect, at which time the fog came in and with it, uncertainty over how it could impact Thursday’s show.

“Once you deploy public service personnel the meter starts ticking,” Mr. Pelkey said, noting that it had already begun earlier in the day. “For you to say we have to go to another night, well, the committee is in a bit of a quagmire.”

Changing Times

In the past, Mr. Pelkey said, many of the expenses to go an extra night would not have been incurred. Barge companies, he said, would typically not charge for another night and police officers and firefighters would have been covered through taxes.

And at one time, Mr. Pelkey said, Falmouth’s fireworks were loaded on a barge in Woods Hole instead of New Bedford, representing another decrease in the Falmouth fireworks expense line item.

An additional concern Mr. Pelkey raised was the fact that there was no guarantee that the conditions on Friday evening would have been better than they were on Thursday.

Even with the visual impediment caused by the fog, Mr. Ratsy said, those he saw at Falmouth Heights were enjoying themselves. “It was amazing, the crowd reaction,” he said. “People were still screaming and applauding the show.”

It is the type of response the three expect will occur next year. All agreed that what happened this year will have no impact on the 2014 show, from the donors to the audience. “I will say the majority of people will stick by us,” Mr. Drolette said of those who contribute funds to help put on the show. “The big businesses understand that fog happens and they know we used our best judgment.”

“At the end of the day no one wants to put on a bad show,” Mr. Pelkey said, noting that is especially true for him here. While he has had the opportunity to attend the fireworks in Boston, which his company puts on for that city, for the past eight years he has spent July 4 in Falmouth. “Falmouth has always been one of my favorite places. I’ve got a lot of great friends here and it’s a special place for me.”

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