Darien’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration is in danger of going on hiatus this year, as logistical problems and a lack of volunteers have left the town with few options to organize and execute the event. However, Selectman Susan Marks, who has helped organize the fireworks celebration for the past three years, confirmed on Wednesday that the town is still having early meetings to make this year’s Fourth of July celebration possible.
During budget deliberations, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said Darien High School may not be a suitable location for the fireworks this year due to the scheduled construction of the school’s cafeteria and damage sustained to the school’s turf field last year. While the board has inquired about other potential locations, none appear to satisfy the needs of such a large gathering. The selectmen did inquire about lighting the fireworks from a barge off the shore of Weed Beach, and potentially combining the Fourth of July celebration with the Parks & Recreation Department’s Weed Beach Festival. However, Darien police do not believe that there would be adequate pedestrian safety leaving the beach due to the event’s large turnout.
Marks said representatives from Atlas Fireworks visited Darien High School last to determine a possible new location for the fireworks launch, and town officials will soon meet with Superintendent Dan Brenner and Ochman to formally request the use of DHS for the celebration.
Two or three volunteers will still be needed to help organize the town event, which is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of July 6-8. Marks said volunteers will be provided with a detailed summary of the role, and the event frequently garners the support of local businesses.
Last year the event was impacted by problems both before and after the celebration leading to some criticism of the planning process. Members of the fireworks committee and the Board of Selectmen arrived at the high school on July 1, 2017 the originally scheduled day of the event, to find that a three-to-four-foot trench had been dug in front of the stands at the high school stadium, blocking access from the public. The trench had been dug earlier in the week as a part of the field lights installation project at the stadium. While the fireworks were postponed until July 2 due to weather, the Fireworks Committee had not been informed about the trench prior to the weekend.
Then, during the course of the fireworks show on Sunday night, flammable materials from the fireworks burned through a double-lined tarp at the high school’s east stadium causing damage to the field’s turf. Funds for the turf fields at DHS were contributed by the Darien Athletic Foundation.
After suffering damage the Planning & Zoning Commission suggested they could implement a special permit process for the fireworks committee and Board of Education to submit a formal plan for the event each year. Chairman John Sini compared the process to that of the Darien Community Association or Grove Street Plaza as special permits are also required when those groups hold public events.
The Darien Fourth of July fireworks celebration is a renewed tradition — the construction of Darien High School put the event on an indefinite hold from 2002 to 2011. In 2013 the Darien Firefighters Association took control of the event as a fund-raiser and organized the fireworks for two years before another group of volunteers came forward.