Fireworks Over Fireworks

Westport PAL is taking heat for something it’s done well for decades: organizing one of our town’s hottest shows of the year, the 4th of July fireworks.

Of course, they’ve never been on July 4th. We celebrate Independence Day on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th, with Westport’s biggest party of the year. Besides fireworks, we enjoy picnics, barbecues, bands, and tons of fun.

This year — for a variety of reasons — the big day is June 30. When they heard that, a few Westporters exploded.

Westport's 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

Westport’s 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

The main complaints are that the event is scheduled on a workday — June 30 is a Thursday — and that folks have to work the next day (Friday, July 1). A secondary issue is that June 30 is several days before the 4th, lessening the holiday’s importance.

The date was picked almost a year ago, says Westport PAL president Ned Batlin. With a limited number of barges, barge crews, and fireworks companies available, not every town can schedule its fireworks on the same date.

For as long as they can remember, Batlin and Police Chief Foti Koskinas say, the fireworks have been held on a weekday (including Friday). At 4 p.m. the beach is cleared; then, people who have purchased tickets ($35 per car — a price that has remained constant for years) are allowed in.

It would be very difficult to clear the beach on a holiday weekend — both because of sheer numbers, and because some of those visitors would have paid for an expensive weekend day pass.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge -- and relaxing with an iPad.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge — and relaxing with an iPad.

In addition, Batlin explains, for financial reasons it’s best for the rain date to be the day after the originally scheduled fireworks. A few years ago rain pushed the fireworks to July 5. Many people complained that it came after the holiday.

For the past few years, Batlin notes, July 4 came close to a weekend, so many people did not have to work the day after the fireworks. This year, July 4 is a Monday.

“We know not everyone can take this Friday off, but some people can,” says Koskinas. “Knowing that some people will have a 4-day weekend, we opted for Thursday so we could have Friday as a rain date.”

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene last year at the Schlaet's Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene at Schlaet’s Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

The fireworks are PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help fund programs that serve thousands of youngsters, and 30 college scholarships.

The fireworks draw 12,000 people to Compo Beach. “We’re well aware we can’t please everyone,” Koskinas says. “Whether it’s the date, the weather, the traffic going to the beach or leaving, someone will be unhappy.

“We strive to please everyone. But we realize that’s not possible.”

Koskinas concludes, “Every year we hope the weather cooperates, that everyone has a good time, and is patient. And every year we hope the fireworks are better than the year before.”

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.

23 responses to “Fireworks Over Fireworks

  1. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Let the chips fall where they may, enjoy the holiday and remember with reverence the fact that our founding fathers had serious problems to overcome. To those in a position to enjoy the fireworks, be doubly grateful and enjoy the experience.

  2. Jack Whittle

    We Westporters will have fun no matter which day the powers that be pick, but the justification for June 30 (Thurs) over July 1 (Friday) is seriously lacking

  3. Both Fairfield (Saturday July 2) and Norwalk (Sunday July 3) seem to have figured out how to make the fireworks take place over the holiday weekend which is most convenient for their residents and working families . Why is Westport not capable of the same ? We appreciate all the good things PAL does for the community but celebrating Independence Day on a weekday in June is plainly not necessary or appropriate.

  4. Melissa Ceriale

    I certainly agree with mr barr and mr miller. crazy to expect working parents to manage this fabulous event 1) so far removed from the actual holiday and 2) during the work week. Westporters host family and friends who come in from all over to enjoy this event. Too bad most of them will miss it this year.

  5. David Eason

    Ned, I am looking at last years ticket. Friday July 3rd with a rain date of Monday July 6th. As an almost 30 year member of the WPD I certainly understand logistics of putting that evening together. The general public probably has no idea how many volunteers, Parks and Rec folks, Police, Fire and EMS personnel it takes to pull this night off. I also understand the reasons for not doing it on a Sat. or Sunday or the 4th itself. Lets face it, if it comes down to the rain date it is sort of a bummer regardless. That said I think you perhaps dropped the ball on not scheduling it for Friday July 1st. No matter what it is the best evening of the year here in town. Good luck and I’ll see you there.

  6. David Loffredo

    Head down the road to Fairfield – Saturday night, July 2nd

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Why isn’t the fireworks display free?
    Why would rain matter?
    Such a shame the celebration can’t be held on the Holiday, itself.

    • It’s not free because it costs over $50,000 for the barge, the fireworks company, insurance, and the enormous number of personnel needed to handle the crowds. I’m sure I’m missing many other costs too. And weather matters because, believe it or not, 1) you can’t shoot off fireworks if there’s thunder and lightning, and 2) if it’s raining, a lot of people are not going to sit on the beach. Go figure.

      In addition, for the past few years Melissa & Doug has sponsored the fireworks. Their generosity has allowed PAL to make this into an important fundraiser, not simply a break-even (or money-losing) “gift to the town.”

    • Jamie Walsh

      Nancy, it can be free for us all. Move back to Westport and sponsor the entire event. Pay Grucci or whoever is the pyrotechnics firm used these day an extra 50 grand and…like magic….it is not such a shame anymore. I also love how people are bitching and moaning over when the fireworks are held….seriously….so many other towns would be thrilled just to have such an event. Roll with it and stop your whining. I am sure PAL and all involved made the best decision possible given the logistics they faced.

      • Jamie Walsh

        It’s always easier to look at thing from the rear view mirror. In the aggregate they have done things correctly and sometimes you just cannot control variables.

      • Nancy Hunter Wilson

        I was just thinking that sometimes more money is raised through donations than tickets for community events, which makes it more inclusive. In any event(!) enjoy, rain (excluding thunderstorms, of course) or (moon) shine.

  8. Nothing is free.

  9. Elizabeth Thibault

    It looks like the local towns have staggered fireworks dates. Perhaps you can find an alternative that may be more convenient, or attend on a couple of nights. It’s always an excellent show that requires significant planning, manpower, and cost. Lets also appreciate that we’re not one of the towns that no longer have a show.

  10. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Seriously, why shouldn’t the Federal government pay for, or contribute to its own birthday party? United States of America.