Ralph Packer saved the day after heavy seas snapped the barge anchor lines hours before the show.
The estimated 12,000 spectators at the annual Oak Bluffs Fireman’s Civic Association fireworks show Friday night had no idea how close the show was to being postponed.
“The was by far the most difficult show I’ve had to deal with as chief,” Oak Bluffs fire chief John Rose told The Times. “We had a stiff northeast wind blowing 20 miles an hour and six to eight-foot seas, and two anchor lines on the barge broke. We lost the first anchor around 4 pm. When the second line broke, someone from [R.M.] Packer had to go back to Vineyard Haven for two more anchors.”
The wind direction also created additional complications. “Because the wind was out of the northeast, which is unusual for this time of year, we had to reposition the barge 1,600 feet offshore instead of the usual 600 feet,” Mr. Rose said. “We also had to move the barge 400 feet to the south so the debris wouldn’t fall on spectators or on buildings in town.”
Mr. Rose said that he and state fire marshal Stephen Coan were in constant contact with the National Weather Service station in Taunton, which provided critical data that informed the final fireworks decision. “They told us winds would diminish from sustained 20 miles an hour to sustained 14 miles an hour between six and eight o’clock,” Mr. Rose said. “They called it on the money.”
After a frenetic afternoon of repairing, recalculating, and repositioning, a test shot that was fired shortly after 5:30 pm showed the barge needed to be moved further offshore.
“We were having trouble orienting the barge because of the wind and the strong currents” Warren Pearce, president of American Thunder Fireworks told The Times. “I was pretty panicked. Then I called Ralph Packer and he told me the tide was going to change in an hour and the current will switch and the wind will drop and we’d be all set. He was right. That man knows what he’s doing.”
Mr. Pearce, a 25 year veteran of the fireworks industry, said Mr. Packer makes many unseen contributions to the show every year. “Generally barges are an expensive addition to a show, but not in this case, because Ralph donates it. He also has his guys pitching in doing all kinds of things. They’re an integral part of making this work.”
Mr. Rose also gave kudos to Mr. Packer. “He was generous enough to tell the tugs to stay on the barge during the show,” Mr. Rose said. “As long I can remember, it’s the first time we had tugs holding the barge in place. Without the tugs there wouldn’t have been a show. Mr. Packer stepped up and saved the day.”
Mr. Pearce said Mr. Rose also deserved credit. “Chief Rose called me four days before the show and said he was concerned about the forecast and that wind was going to be a problem,” he said. “That informed what equipment we brought and in the end we had what we needed. We had a plan in place even before we got there and John was an integral part of it.”
Mr. Rose said the annual fireworks show requires a great deal of planning and coordination, even in ideal conditions. “Nobody realizes all the different things that go into the fireworks show,” he said. “We do a ton of pre-planning, starting right after the first of the year. Everything has to fall into place.”