In an extraordinary meeting called just 24 hours ago under the sort of procedures usually reserved for major emergencies, the Flagler County Commission voted this afternoon, 4-1, to repeal the ban on Flagler Beach’s July 4 fireworks.
“There will be fireworks on July 4th,” Commission Chairman Alan Peterson said after the vote. The meeting, largely uneventful, lasted 23 minutes. Its unfolding nevertheless revealed the intense back-room jockeying that took place–involving county commissioners, county staff, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce’s Doug Baxter, the totality of the Flagler Beach City Commission and, in the middle of it all, County Fire Chief Don Petito–leading to the repeal.
Petito reiterated his judgments from Monday: setting off fireworks in Flagler Beach would “probably be ok.” Setting them off elsewhere would not be. The drought index has dropped from 586 on Monday to 423 as of now (on an 800-scale, with 800 being absolutely dry).
“My 100 percent opinion is that fireworks are never good. I’m a fire chief,” Petito said when Commission Chairman Alan Peterson asked him if, by saying “probably,” it meant more than a 50-50 recommendation.
Listen to the Exchange Between Commission Chairman Peterson, Fire Chief Petito and Administrator Coffey[media id=217 width=350 height=250]
But Petito would not give his full endorsement, even when pressed. County Administrator Craig Coffey had to intervene essentially to put words in Petito’s mouth: that the current situation is not significantly different than the usual July 4th conditions in other years. But that’s not what Petito said. It’s what the county manager had him agree to in a remarkably overt display of verbal muscling from a boss to an employee.
Here’s how the exchange went:
“Is in your opinion the risk of fireworks less today than it was on Monday?” Peterson asked Petito.
“It’s a tough question. Again, you’re shooting them over the beach. If everything goes over the water, everything is going to be PK. You get one stray rocket on any day, it could be bad. So I could sit here and tell you everything is going to be OK–”
“That’s not really my question,” Peterson pressed. “My question is, and I listened to what you said on Monday, and my opinion on Monday was that I felt I didn’t want to take that risk. Why now should I change my vote?”
“Chief, chief, let me help out a little bit,” Coffey interrupted, preventing a clearly uncomfortable Petito from answering. “Chief, is the fire risk this year, we face a risk every time we do fireworks. The risk now that we face is typical of any other year that we face now at this point in time based on the rain and other stuff we’ve received, is that correct?”
“Say that again?” Petito asked.
“We face a risk every time we do fireworks regardless of the year,” Coffey said. “The risk that we face in Flagler Beach now at this point in time is not necessarily any different than we faced in previous year, would that be a fair statement as far as that particular area?”
“Yeah, we can go with that,” Petito said.
“OK,” Coffey said.
“Well,” Peterson said, “that’s a significant statement.”
There are still six fires burning in the county, including the Espanola fire. County Commissioner Milissa Holland asked if fire crews have had enough rest since the long stretch of overtime they’d put in–and rest enough “to deal with another major disaster.” Petito again hedged. “To say that they’ve had enough rest, I think it’ll take another couple of weeks before we go back to normal.”
“I’ve never heard a firefighter complain that they just can’t go on,” Commissioner George Hanns said, justifying his vote in favor of repealing the ban. “Things have changed since the other day.”
“It’s probably not a popular decision to cancel fireworks,” Holland said, but she termed it “irresponsible” to hold them, given the situation. “I’ve certainly lost a little bit of sleep over it as well,” she said, but was unable to change her mind.
Milissa Holland’s Exchange With Petito, Then (Later in the Meeting) Her Summation[media id=219 width=350 height=250]
Formally, the commission repealed a previous order banning all county fireworks, including one that had been scheduled for Town Center and another in the Hammock, by amending it to enable only the Flagler Beach show.
Firefighters will be posted on standby in Flagler Beach, as they normally are when fireworks shows are staged whether there is a burn ban or not.
The commission voted on June 20, unanimously, to cancel all three fireworks shows. At the time the county was battling more than a dozen wildfires. The county’s fire crews were on 36-hour shifts. The county’s fire chief was not wanting to risk new fires, which would have stretched crews dangerously. It was based on his recommendation that commissioners eliminated the shows.
The full Flagler Beach City Commission was in the chambers (John Feind, Steve Settle, Jane Mealy, who briefly addressed and thanked the commission later in the meeting, Kim Carney and Marshall Shupe), plus the city’s acting county manager (Bruce Campbell) and the city’s fire chief (Frank Roberts). Constitutional officers were also present: Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth and Property Appraiser Jay Gardner.
Watch the Full Special Meeting (About 23mn)[media id=220 width=500 height=400]
Here’s the schedule of events for Monday’s Independence Day celebration in Flagler Beach, as scheduled by the Flagler Beach Chamber of Commerce:
10 a.m. Independence Day Parade
11 a.m. Cornhole Competition
12 p.m. Watermelon Eatin’ Contest
1 p.m. Tiny Tiki/Lil’ Kahuna Event
2 p.m. Hot Dog Eating Competition sponsored by Chi Dog
3 p.m. Battle of the Bands
9 p.m. Fireworks