See a follow-up to this article correcting or clarifying several statements by officials below, “Flagler Beach Could Have Had Its July 4 Fireworks Had It Not Waited Until April 24 to Book the Show.”
There may not be any July 4 fireworks in Flagler Beach this year.
Not because Palm Coast will have them, or because Flagler Beach doesn’t want them, but because Fireworks by Santore, the Palm Coast-based manufacturer that’s produced Independence Day fireworks for decades told the city it’s too short-staffed to make it there on July 4. ” I spoke with Sanatory Fireworks and this is a staffing issue,” Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston said.” This is a budget issue. They are turning down jobs of $50,000. So basically until we have an investment up into $100,000 we would not have fireworks on the Fourth of July, it’s the same amount of labor, and so their profit is cut doing smaller jobs.”
It could produce the show on July 2 for $25,000. But the city commission late Thursday night voted against that option.
“I am not okay with having the parade not on the Fourth of July,” Johnston said. “This city has always had the parade on the Fourth of July and is what has kicked off the festivities for the day. And I would not like to see the rest of the events happening on the 2nd. That goes against what we have done as tradition in the city.” She added: “There’s issues with the fireworks but there’s not issues with having the parade on the Fourth of July and having the events in the park.”
The city is not entirely without options for fireworks on the 4th. Santore, regretful that it’s unable to do the show on the 4th, recommended another pyrotechnics vendor to City Manger William Whitson. It’s “another smaller provider that wasn’t quite as busy and booked up that may be able to do this on the fourth,” Whitson said, “I’ve been in conversations with the new provider, Imperial fireworks. And I’m waiting for the final answer. But there’s a shot, there’s a chance that we can have Fourth of July fireworks on the Fourth.” The provider told Whitson “it was 50-50 and let him do some more homework ,and that’s the last I heard.”
Imperial Pyro and Special Effects is a very small company founded by Jack Lambert in 2018 and operating out of Florida and Virginia.
“The problem is this gentleman has known about this since Friday,” Police Chief Matt Doughney said of Lambert. “He hasn’t been vetted. I don’t know if he’s licensed through ATF. He’s talking about doing a 10 minute show with smaller shells. This town about went crazy a couple years ago when we had a 14 minute show.” He said his department could not handle a split holiday burdening his troops–First Friday on the 1st, with the Navy Band, fireworks on July 2, then the parade and other July 4 events on Monday. “You have to have it all in one day, you can’t split the two events,” Doughney warned the commission–other than leaving First Friday on that day.
Lambert in an interview on Friday said he’d spoken with Whitson and Pace, and that he was hoping to have a decision soon, his intention being to produce a show that “my company will be proud of and something your community will be proud of.” That means a 20-minute show, he said, being aware of the reaction to a shorter show in the past.
The commission voted 5-0 to reject July 2 fireworks and assume the risk that it could end up with no fireworks at all on the 4th if Imperial Fireworks doesn’t come through. Whitson assured the commission: Lambert “is licensed. He is certified. I just don’t know if he can do our show on the fourth. That’s what I’m waiting to hear,” the city manager said.
Whitson said Santore is pulling out because of staffing issues. But there are other issues: the cost of fireworks has skyrocketed, and the overwhelming majority of fireworks materials originate from China, where supply problems have been endemic.
[Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly placed Fireworks by Santore’s headquarters in west Flagler. The Santore operation split in 2011, with Santore & Sons operating at the west Flagler location, and producing a type of fireworks called “close proximity pyrotechnics,” different than those produced for such things as the July 4 show. Fireworks by Santore, which does produce those shows, opened offices on Hargrove Grade in Palm Coast. Flagler Beach has been partnering with Fireworks by Santore for its shows.]
“I’m still agreeing with the mayor, I think we need to have everything on the Fourth,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said. “We had a whole long fight several months ago about Palm Coast wants to change from the 3rd to the 4th, we would do it all through the years. We went through this old blah blah blah. And we were damant that July 4 belongs in Flagler Beach.” Mealy was referring to the weeks-long controversy in January and February, when Palm Coast City Council members pressed to have fireworks on July 4 in Palm Coast, instead of on July 3, as has been the case since 2011. The push-back from Flagler Beach was quick and sharp, with near-unanimity on the Flagler Beach City Commission against changing tradition.
“I know we didn’t know that Santore was going to create this problem. But if there’s an alternative I think we need to go on the Fourth with everything.”
Commissioner Eric Cooley noted that the commission-appointed July 4 committee that wrapped up its work in January had been clear with its recommendations: fireworks, yes, but only in conjunction with stepped up policing. But the usual help from neighboring law enforcement agencies won;t be the same. Doughney says Daytona police, one of the usual helpers, “is down 30 cops,” and will not be helping this year. “It sounds like that everything can be done on the Fourth except the fireworks, is almost like we’ve come full circle,” Cooley said. Cooley last year proposed scrapping July 4 fireworks altogether because the city is being overrun on that day, he argued.
So Cooley proposed scrapping the July fireworks altogether this year. That proposal did not quite carry. But the mayor raised another issue: what about coming years, if the same dilemma arises? “We’re just putting ourselves into a position to never celebrate the Fourth of July on the Fourth of July going forward,” Johnston said. She doesn’t want to see that happen. July 4 festivities must be on July 4 in Flagler Beach, she said, come what may–with or without fireworks. “It’s called the fourth not the second of July. And that’s what all of our residents kept saying. And it’s not about the fireworks. It’s about the celebration in the community and all of the things that the day encompasses.” Cooley last year had proposed shifting the fireworks tradition to New Year’s Eve. He tried again Thursday evening, but other commissioners preferred delaying those moves.
The city is bracing for a public relations challenge. City Commission Chairman Ken Bryan said messaging has to let people know that “we’re having a problem. You know, heaven has not been good to us,” he said.
To Cooley, “this is something that county is allowing to be dumped on us because they don’t do one of their own, when they could, and they have the ability to,” he said of fireworks.