Festival fizzer


Govt killjoys hose down firework displays.

Public firework displays in Queenstown Bay may be doused, after a report to a government department recommended prosecution.

After loose fireworks exploded in the crowd during last year’s Winter Festival, a report for the Department of Labour said two fireworks organisers and the person who certified the pyrotechnics plan should be charged.

The DoL told Mountain Scene late yesterday that the recommended prosecution would be shelved.

“The key issue in this incident was one of public safety which was unconnected with workplace safety,” says a spokesperson.

The original report – released to Mountain Scene this week under Official Information statutes – says regulations weren’t followed and 10,000 spectators, nearby buildings, vehicles, boats and heritage trees in Queenstown Gardens were “at risk”.

“Persons were in fact injured and struck,” says the report, with one spectator receiving minor burns.

“Four areas were identified where shells landed amongst the crowd.”

At the time, Arrowtowner John Mowat told Mountain Scene he saw parents grab a baby from its pram to protect the child from an explosion.

Media reports also said fireworks went off on the roof of Prime Restaurant, and a fire crew was called to the Gardens.

The DoL report – by Tim Francis, compliance boss of local council quango Lakes Environmental – alleges fireworks organisers submitted a not-to-scale plan to the certifier, who incorrectly accepted it.

As a result, organisers wrongly suggested there would be an “exclusion zone” within a 250-metre radius of the fireworks barge in Queenstown Bay.

“A [fireworks] display firing a 300mm shell requiring a 250m radius in all directions from the point of firing…should not have been given approval in Queenstown Bay as the exclusion zone would have always been compromised,” says Francis.

The 250m radius exclusion zone casts a black cloud over future Winter Festival and New Year firework displays.
Francis believes the two organisers and the certifier “had little appreciation of the safety significance when applying for and certifying a test certificate”, showing “gross negligence … in their requirement to comply with the Hazardous Substances & New Organisms Act”.

His report also alleges the fireworks barge, instead of sticking to its approved position, moved closer to the crowd.

Mountain Scene spoke yesterday to the two organisers and the certifier, although their names are blacked-out in the report.

Christchurch fireworks contractor Anthony Lealand says there’s no evidence his crackers did the damage.

“Frequently, at displays, other people fire fireworks among the crowd.”

Rather than the barge moving closer, he contends it backed out into the bay towards the end of the show.

Lealand’s aware of only one injury – a girl who received burns needing only treatment by cream next day.

He also denies the map was not to scale, since it relied on a Google Earth photo.

The 250m exclusion zone accommodates Queenstown Bay if you include the Gardens, he says: “The Gardens are empty at that time of night.”

Lealand is also disappointed Francis didn’t discuss his findings before filing his report.

Lealand’s Queenstown employee, Bill Falcone, is also named in the report.

“If they say I have no appreciation for safety, I take offence at that – everybody that knows me, knows better,” Falcone says.

If DoL had problems with the safety plan, they should have been raised before the first fuse was lit, he adds.

The third party is Ian Donald of Cambridge, whose company certified the event.

“I was more than comfortable about issuing the test certificate in the first place,” he says.

“I was satisfied with the expertise of the pyrotechnician, Bill Falcone, and I am very comfortable with Anthony Lealand and his company, they’re very meticulous.”

Winter Festival director Sally Feinerman is “disappointed” to learn the reputable fireworks company is alleged to have breached safety laws “as its plans were signed off by relevant authorities”.

“The opening party fireworks is a popular, iconic festival event and we will be reviewing our system of supply to ensure that it takes place and takes place safely with complying plans.”