Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney says he’s ready for anything when a parade trundles down Ocean Shore Boulevard, but “a fully engulfed vehicle fire was not something we anticipated.”
About 75 percent of Flagler Beach’s much-anticipated Holiday at the Beach Parade–back for the first time since the Covid hiatus–had made it through when an antique car that had been visibly leaking oil ignited, and soon was a ball of flames. Its occupant was not hurt, nor was anyone else.
Based on the parade manifest, the vehicle, “a true automobile legend,” was an exact replica of a 1930s jaguar SS 100, driven by Ken Aston.
Zeyd Tatli provided the following drone view of the incident:
The fire put an end to the parade of some 52 entrants, with the fire departments that were in the parade yet to make it through. But as Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston put it, while the firefighters didn’t get to be in the parade, they ended up being a chief attraction all the same as “Everyone there got to see our first responders in action.”
“When you plan a parade you always plan for there to be bumps in the road, this is why you have law enforcement, first responders and safety there,” Johnston said. “So when the car caught fire first responders were immediately on the scene. I saw Police Chief Doughney cruising down the street on his bicycle,” React, the corps of volunteers who regulate traffic, immediately got to work keeping the crowds away from the scene, and firefighters who had been set to parade to the finish rushed down to the fire and assisted Flagler Beach’s Ladder 11, which had responded from its ready staging ground. Ladder 11 was not in the parade but had been placed on stand-by for any emergency, Doughney said.
“It was a curveball thrown at us in the middle of an event, and I know I couldn’t be prouder of the way our fire department reacted,” Doughney said. “This is why you plan this professionally.”
The parade started at 1 p.m. The firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 1:52 p.m. at North 4th Street.
The Fire Department’s Lt. Forte and Driver/Engineer Wu responded, and were joined by Lt. Rainey and Firefighter Poeira. State Road A1A was significantly thronged with parade goers (Johnston said the crowd was comparable to a July 4 crowd) so getting there was a bit of a challenge. The fire could have posed a threat to structures on the west side of A1A and a vehicle on the east side of the road, Doughney said, but firefighters contained it all within minutes.
“For a car to catch fire in the middle of a parade, everything was handled seamlessly,” Johnston said.
The Flagler Beach Rotary Club’s Cindy Dalecki and Bob Snyder hosted and emceed the parade. Dalecki is a veteran host at July 4 and Christmas parades, but it was a first for Snyder, who also heads the Flagler County Health Department and has been in the public eye for nearly two years as one of the county’s vanguards in the fight against Covid. He and Dalecki were in Elf costumes. “He’s just so great at public speaking, so full of energy,” Dalecki said, “knew a lot of people in the parade, like I do, so it’s really fun.”
“The Rotary Club of Flagler Beach is so excited to present the parade,” Dalecki said. “We missed being in the community. It’s so rare that you can close down a major thoroughfare, it was a really just a beautiful sight to have everybody there, it was a lot of FB residents and a lot of first-time people seeing the parade.”
The parade started with Santa dropping from the sky, as in the past.
There were three winners: the Holiday Spirit award went to First Baptist Church of Bunnell, whose float featured Jesus (his special day after all), bubbles, the manger and other telltale signs of the season. The Outstanding Performance award went to Paks Karate. And the Most Creative award went to Surfside Estates, whose golf carts were a parade within a parade of Santa’s workshop, toys, a Lego cart and so on.
“I guess it was a fire-hot parade,” the mayor said, entirely tongue-in-cheeck. She was grateful no one was hurt and commended the swift response.
The damaged vehicle was removed from the scene by John’s Towing, the Bunnell wrecker, and traffic on A1A was restored at 2:45 p.m.
“The day went excellent up until it was interrupted with the car fire,” Flagler Beach Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said. “It was great weather and it was a really, really nice feeling having activities like that again.”
There had been safety concerns of a different sort for the parade: Doughney wanted to ensure against any kind of Waukesha, “Wisconsin-type incident,” the now repeated transformation of vehicles into missiles at parades. To that end, the city parked its garbage trucks
to block off north and southbound A1A along the route of the parade, and eastbound 100, along with water-filled barriers that weigh 1,000 pounds. The garbage trucks were Sanitation Supervisor Rob Smith’s idea. “Kudos to Rob Smith for that idea, I think it worked very well, not only for the safety,” Doughney said. “It made me feel even more comfortable.”
Doughney posted on Facebook: “The Flagler Beach Police Department would like to sincerely thank Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly along with the Motorcycle Unit and C.O.P.’s from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office as well as the Volunteers from Flagler County Assist for all of the assistance with traffic associated with the Parade and the vehicle fire. While today’s Parade was shortened, it was done so in the best interest of public safety, and we’re glad nobody was injured as a result of the fire.”
Flagler Beach Police Department/Fire Department video: