By Thomas Tracy
No New Yorker would be able to see the rocket’s red glare this Independence Day without help from FDNY fire inspectors, who make sure nothing goes boom until its supposed to.
As they do every year, FDNY fire inspectors will be on the five massive barges anchored in the East River where the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks spectacular will be set off, making sure the extravaganza goes off without a hitch.
Their hands-on assessment begins when a truck, full of fireworks from California, crosses into the five boroughs a few days before the show.
“We give them an escort into the city and once they’re here, we check their hazmat license and look over everything,” FDNY Deputy Chief Inspector Mike Reardon told the Daily News.
Once they get the all clear, they’re accompanied by an FDNY engine company to Staten Island where the explosives are painstakingly unloaded onto steel barges.
“We only allow one box to be loaded at a time,” Reardon explained. “Then we watch as they put together their racks and mortars, making sure they’re secured and nailed down.”
On the big day, the inspectors meet up with the pyrotechnic crews at about 2 p.m. and sail off to the East River, where the explosives, which are kept in secure containers, are finally set up.
Once on the water, the biggest challenge is keeping all the cruise ships and pleasure boats from getting too close to the barge, added Deputy Chief Inspector Darryl Chalmers.
“The pyros cannot shoot the show until we give the clear and if there are boats too close to the barge, it’s not happening,” he said. “We got to make sure they’re at a safe distance and we have to make sure there there isn’t a malfunction or an explosion when the mortars are pointing at the crowd.”
In the decades that FDNY fire inspectors have been monitoring the Macy’s fireworks show, it has always gone off without any problems, Reardon added.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, but we enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a great event and we’re glad to be a part of it.”
The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks show is a mammoth undertaking which involves multi-agency planning among the FDNY, the NYPD and the Department of Transportation and others.
It’s by far the largest, but still just one of more than 50 fireworks displays inspectors bounce around to during the summer season. On Friday, fire inspectors were in Coney Island, making sure the beach rigs for the Friday night fireworks show was free of any problems.
“It’s just amazing to see what they do with the fireworks,” said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the union for fire inspectors and city emergency medical technicians and paramedics. “There’s a little over 300 of them, they’re severely short staffed, but they are still able to keep everything running smoothly.
“I can’t recall there ever being a fire at a Fourth of July event or any firework event that was monitored by them.”
But overseeing firework displays is just a small part of the fire inspectors’ mandate.
Every day, inspectors visit residential buildings to make sure all the fire prevention systems are in working order when firefighters need them — like properly set up standpipe and sprinkler systems. They also check rooftops and fire escapes, go into subway tunnels and train stations, combing over city bridges, all to make sure the firefighting equipment smoke eaters rely on in an emergency will be ready for them.
“It’s all about safety,” Chalmers said.
FDNY Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said FDNY fire inspectors “are essential to our department’s mission.”
“Every day, our Fire Inspectors ensure the safety of New Yorkers and their fellow FDNY members through their inspections of restaurants, businesses, and countless areas of public assembly,” she said. “And each year, when we celebrate our nation’s birthday, they are front and center making certain that legal and approved fireworks displays happen safely.”