Members of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual fireworks celebration at Waveny said Wednesday that the popular family gathering likely won’t happen in any form on July 4 and that it remains to be seen whether a postponed event is feasible.
The Family Fourth Committee stopped short of making a formal recommendation to postpone or cancel the event. Yet even in a modified fireworks show—for example, where attendees are told to park on the lawn at Waveny and remain in their cars—members of the group voiced concerns about people ignoring such instructions.
“Here’s an example—the parks got closed for a reason,” Committee member Wendy Dixon Fog, who also is a volunteer EMT with New Canaan Emergency Medical Services, said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “And they got closed because people refused to social distance and you had a lacrosse game and you had a little bumble bee soccer game and these parents were already told, ‘Social distancing, no games.’ So if we can’t control what they are doing in small numbers, I don’t know how we are going to be able to do this.”
Chair Tom Stadler said the Committee would meet weekly until it reached a decision. Committee member Robin Bates-Mason said Norwalk, Westport, Enfield, West Haven, Hartford and Windsor Locks already have canceled their Independence Day fireworks. Stadler said the Committee should continue to monitor what other towns are doing.
Recreation Director Steve Benko said the company hired (for $31,000) to put on the fireworks would need to be advised by May 15. (A $2,000 deposit already has been made for the kids’ bouncy house that’s typically set up in the forecourt of Waveny House, though it likely could be applied to next year’s event, Benko said.)
Stadler said, “My personal opinion is that July is not going to work. How do you put 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 people in that field and keep your social distancing? So the question is: Can we do it in July or not? I don’t personally think so. What about September? Labor Day? What Columbus Day? What about Veterans Day? Is that far enough out? Do we just go at it and say we are not going to cancel but we will postpone it indefinitely until things change?”
Benko floated the idea of having a fireworks show at Waveny where some could park on the grass and others could park at New Canaan High School and view it from there, as had happened at Kiwanis Park in the past.
Committee member Maria Weingarten asked whether that “drive-in” model was possible.
“You really don’t think there’s a way we could block off going onto the lawn by Waveny and have people in a car?” she said.
Told that the difficulty would be people coming in from other towns, she said the Committee would sell tickets and only allow ticket-holders in, as the current Family Fourth model calls for. (Contrary to popular belief, the Waveny fireworks event is supported by private donations to a fund overseen by the Committee.)
“We don’t allow access any other way, it’s no different from what we have done in the past,” Weingarten said.
It would be difficult to enforce that restriction, said Committee member Win Goodrich, a New Canaan firefighter.
“Ideally it would be nice if we think everyone would listen, but we have already seen in many states that people don’t listen to the directives,” he saId. “There’s not enough fire personnel, there’s not enough cops.”
He added, “There’s not enough people to mandate [that] you have to stay in your car.”
Fog said an event where people are told to stay in their cars would be “a really tough one to monitor, by the police or by [the Community Emergency Response Team].”
“And there will be people who have an attitude of, ‘I am up here, screw you,’ ” she said. “We have already seen that kind of attitude going around.”
The difficulty could be exacerbated by warmer weather, she said.
“You saw [Tuesday]—it was mayhem in the streets,” Fog said. “I think come Memorial Day, I think people are going to see the good weather and it’s going to be, ‘I have had enough, it’s good weather, we are going out, I don’t care.’ And not everybody is wearing masks. It’s like they missed television or radio or whatever they missed.”
New Canaan Police Capt. Andrew Walsh, a member of the Committee, said it was “a little early” to say for sure what should happen with this year’s Family Fourth, though considerations such as the sanitary issue of thousands of people using a limited number of public restrooms would present a major challenge.
“My vote is just to cancel,” he said. “I think it’s a very nice idea that we could get it earlier than next year but I don’t think it’s very realistic at this point.”
Asked whether August could be an option for the Family Fourth, Benko said that most weddings that had been booked for May have been moved to the June through August period.
This year would be the 40th anniversary of the Family Fourth, Benko said.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to show that a suggestion regarding Waveny had to do with a past similar event at Kiwanis Park.]