Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 4th Fireworks (or lack thereof!) lessons learned

What happened to our Fireworks? What are you doing to make sure it does not happen again?

For many Lakewood residents, our national holiday of July 4th is known as our nation’s birthday, yet we also like to think of it as “Lakewood’s Day”.  It is marked by pageantry, family fun, a day to reflect, and much like Thanksgiving, a simple day of celebration that does not require a great deal of preparation, decoration, or planning.

A traditional highlight is our Fireworks display at Lakewood park. This event is seen annually by more than ten thousand in the park, and thousands more from rooftops, porches, lawns and apartments all over Lakewood. 

Fireworks displays became increasingly regulated about 10 years ago. As a result, these displays are almost all ignited electronically. The sequence is controlled by a specialized computer processor that programs the timing of the various ignitions. The Fireworks themselves are packed into closely confined crates. A maze of wires connects everything to the processor board.
The Electronic match

This past July 4th Fire Chief Gilman and I were monitoring the advancing weather from the West.  We seemed to dodge the storm as it went South and then back East. We could see the lightening to the South.
fireworks rack- packed close- eliminating safe manual ignition

Our biggest threat, however, lay in the complexity of electronics and wires. The test launch worked. The wind was fine. Several shots were fired, with increasing delay between these, and then nothing.  Pytrotecnico, our licensed vendor who provided spectacular shows the previous two years, went into high gear. They swapped out the main lead with two sets of back up wires. They swapped out the main fire control processor with a preprogrammed back up. The lead operator was talking via cell phone, with intermittent service, to the programmer to trouble shoot the problem. All to no avail.
the culprit- firing sequence control board

The whole delay, from first recognition of the problem until I made the decision to cancel the show, lasted 45 minutes.

The biggest criticism heard from citizens was the lack of information throughout the 45 minutes as to the nature of the problem.  I think this is a valid criticism.

 I made an announcement over the pool PA system indicating electronic issues and requested  patience. This information system proved woefully inadequate. The bandstand microphones used by The Lakewood High Rock Orchestra had been all packed up.

As we have reviewed how we could have improved, we have identified several opportunities to get the word out to 10,000 people over 15 acres of park, plus those scattered throughout Lakewood.

1)      We should have tweeted the situation. This would automatically update our Facebook page.

2)      We should have put an immediate update on our website

3)      We should have installed a working PA system in the park.

We should have improved our communication between police and Fire Chiefs and me, as cell phone service proved to be unreliable.

4)      In order to perform the above, we will need to;

a.       Have immediate access to a hardwired internet workstation. The Board of Education has such a workstation in the Pool Pavilion. We will  have prearranged password and user access

b.      We need to upgrade our early warning siren system to include microphone access and speech broadcasting ability

c.       I will carry a public safety police/fire radio.

d.      Have access to the City’s Tweet and website from my cell Phone (already done)

e.      Any PA announcement should be repeated multiple times, with a request to  “pass the word”

f.        Encourage citizens to sign up for alerts and become a city tweet follower. on our website. Approximately 3000 have done so.

I am sure we will continue to think of other improvements. I am grateful we could learn all of the above in a non-emergency situation. Had it been an emergency, we would have triggered the early warning sirens. While this would have indicated an emergency, it would not have provided any information.

 I want to compliment the crowd on the orderly  exit from the park despite being very hot and disappointed. We are working with our vendor to get full credit for this year's costs, and apply them towards a great fireworks display on July 4th, 2013!

We know we can always do better, which is why we will.



  1. Hopefully it will never be an issue again, but one thing you might consider is to put me on your notification list @ohiofirewks on twitter or fireworksinohio-dot-com; I get hundreds of thousands of visits on July 4th, at least half from mobile devices of people who were there and looking to my site to provide information. (There are a number of people who commented afterwards as well) I was here all night entering drought cancellations anyway (I cover six states) and would have been happy to post your announcement.

    (Also, I don't know if you're aware of it, but your commenting system prevents many of your community from participation) Or maybe that's the point.

  2. Everything happens for a reason. Cheers for July 4th 2013! :)