Fireworks safety questioned

The Fourth of July fireworks display held on the Dunkirk waterfront is a highlight of the summer season for many area residents. Not everyone is always happy with the outcome however.

At a recent meeting of the city’s Harbor Commission, Zen Olow, a former member of the commission, expressed concern about embers from the display scarring boats – particularly boats anchored at Chadwick Bay Marina. Given the fireworks are set off from the city pier, the embers sometimes don’t end up falling as planned.

“Who is going to stop them if the wind is blowing onshore and boats over at the marina are being bombarded with embers from the fireworks?” Olow asked. “Last year nobody got any satisfaction because a couple boats got burn marks on them. It was submitted and I have a gentleman that’s ready to call the Coast Guard and say ‘it’s unsafe.’ So either you guys handle it or somebody’s going to have to handle it that says, ‘they’re not going to go today because of the onshore wind.’ I’m just bringing it to your attention.”

Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak attended the meeting and told Olow she would contact City Attorney Ron Szot about the issue.

“It’s more than bringing it up because there was a claim against the city and it was denied and the guy is pretty hot right now. He’s a charter boat captain,” Olow said.

Commission members Allan Zurawski and Kurt Warmbrodt both said many boats have been singed over the years.

“He was on his boat when it happened and it still singed his boat,” Olow replied. “There’s many boats down there that are not attended on fireworks and if one of those boats goes up in flames there’s going to be a bunch of them go up. I’ve got 80 gallons of gas on mine and it will go up like a flame. Canvas-on sailboats will go up pretty fast.

“I know it’s a tourist attraction but you can have a catastrophe.”

Olow said in 2012 the wind changed from offshore to blowing across the marina halfway through the fireworks display.

“I was right by my boat and it did blow across and I had pieces falling from the sky … right on my boat,” Olow stated.

Szot was contacted by the OBSERVER about the issue and asked about city ownership of property on the harborfront.

“The pier and Central Avenue are the city’s, and the marina, technically from the breakwater into Lake Shore Drive to the hotel, is the city’s, although a majority of that is leased out,” he replied. “It is all city property on the east side.”

Szot added that technically, the docks are city property and are leased. As for the fireworks, Szot said he could recall one claim filed in 2012.

“The city contracts with a third party, recently it’s been Zambelli, and as a condition of engaging them to have the pleasure of putting on the fireworks show for us they provide, in addition to the beautiful fireworks, a certificate of insurance. Basically, a transfer of the risk,” he explained. “They’re insuring the fireworks, so normally people don’t know that. Someone alleges a loss they would file a notice of claim against the city.”

Szot said the procedure is the claim gets filed, Common Council refers it to his office and then it goes to the insurance carrier.

“Our insurance carrier would basically advise the claimant that it’s not “the city’s responsibility” because of the underlying transferring of risk and refer them to either the fireworks company and/or the insurance company for the fireworks company,” he explained. “Then, hypothetically, if someone is not satisfied they could still file a claim. A notice of claim is just a precursor to filing a lawsuit against the city. If someone was not satisfied with settling the matter they could always sue the city.”

Szot added the city’s insurance carrier is good about advising claimants about procedures. As to who makes the call on whether the fireworks go off, Szot said he presumed it would be the fireworks company.

“Being the experts, they would be the ones. We say we’re spending $30,000 for your expertise. Put these on safely or not; let us know,” he added. “I guess hypothetically the city could tell them not to.”

Szot added if the city should call the display off and the company maintains that conditions are safe the city probably would still owe the company.

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