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20th anniversary of Dave’s big New York adventure. Sixth anniversary of Dave being very lazy on Independence Day.

Video from my July 3 & 4, 1993 trip to New York with Vito Maggiolo.

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Twenty-years-ago today I was in New York with my friend and fire buff extraodinaire Vito Maggiolo. For me it was a memorable trip. It included a blimp crash and a chance to see FDNY in action on a very busy day thanks to fireworks. I intitially wrote about this excursion during the first year of STATter911.com.

The July 4, 2007 column also looked at the problems fire chiefs and political leaders face in attempting to deal with fireworks safety. At the time, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin had proposed banning all consumer fireworks in the Nation’s Capital. It didn’t go over so well.

Dennis Rubin is no longer a fire chief, and I am no longer a TV reporter. I haven’t heard talk of a ban in DC since Rubin left more than two-years-ago. I don’t recall any mention of the fireworks ban idea in Rubin’s book “D.C. Fire”, but the politics of fireworks can be an interesting topic. Dennis Rubin is now one of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s three finalists for the job of New Orleans Fire Department superintendent. If Rubin gets the job this is a battle he won’t have to fight, because fireworks are not legal in Orleans Parish.

So, being totally devoid of any original thinking at this stage in my careeer, I am repeating, for the sixth time, my annual Independence Day column. Please enjoy the day, celebrate our freedoms and those who helped secure them and, above all, be safe.

My video after Pizza Hut’s Big Foot Pizza blimp deflated and landed on an apartment building at 410 W. 53rd Street in Manhattan on July 4, 1993.

From STATter911.com, July 4, 2007

Independence Day in 1993 was one of the stranger days of my life. I had gone with my friend Vito Maggiolo to New York to experience July 4th, usually the busiest day of the year for FDNY.

In the afternoon we were visiting one of Vito’s friends at Manhattan Fire Alarm in Central Park.

As we were sitting around chatting, the phones suddenly began ringing. We were hearing bits and pieces of only one side of the conversation. But the call takers were asking questions with surprised looks on their faces. We heard: “A what?”; “Where”?; “It’s deflating?”; “Over the Hudson?”.

Vito and I raced south and then to the west toward the Hudson River. We arrived just after the first firefighters and saw Pizza Hut’s Bigfoot Pizza Blimp draped over the side of an apartment building. We watched as the two injured crew members were brought down from the roof.

To me, that wasn’t the strangest part of the day. I would save that description for the nighttime tour of Brooklyn with FDNY’s deputy commissioner for public information. To this day I have never seen anything else quite like it.

This is July 4, 1991 video by Alan Simmons (firestormvideos.com) of FDNY’s Rescue 3 during July 4, 1991. It includes a Brooklyn fourth alarm.

It seemed as if fireworks were going off on every street. Barrels of fireworks burned in the middle of many blocks. Bottle rockets struck our car. M-80s exploded in trash can after trash can. The radio blared with reports of neighbor’s homes set on fire by fireworks along with numerous reports of injured people.

On one hand it felt as if I had been transported to a war zone. I’ll admit, being new to this, it was a little scary. At the same time, it reminded me of something very beautiful — one of my favorite movies, Barry Levinson‘s “Avalon”.

The scene of Russian immigrant Sam Krichinsky arriving in Baltimore on July 4th is repeated throughout the film. As he walks under exploding fireworks all around, this is the voice-over dialogue:

I came to America in 1914–by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What welcome it was, what a welcome!

This is the long way around to talk about the story I covered yesterday. But I think it is appropriate, because it illustrates the dilemma with fireworks. For many of us they are beautiful and meaningful. At the same time there are serious dangers.

A task force led by D.C. Fire & EMS has been rounding up illegal fireworks in recent days. At a press conference to announce the seizure of a large quantity of fireworks, I asked Chief Dennis Rubin his thoughts on the fireworks that are currently legal in the District. The ones residents are allowed to buy at the almost 70 roadside stands set up in D.C.

As a reporter, I instantly realized Chief Rubin’s answer was the news of the day. To me it overshadowed the talk of arrests and confiscation. Chief Rubin thinks the time may have come to ban all fireworks in the Nation’s Capitol, except those used in licensed public displays.

The fire chief lit the fuse and the reaction was somewhat explosive. James Peters, a retired D.C. fire inspector who runs four stands, would not believe me when I told him what I had learned at the press conference. Later when he realized I wasn’t making it up, Peters expressed anger. But his reaction was mild compared to a few other stand operators I heard from by telephone after the story aired.

Dennis Rubin says it is all about keeping children and everyone else safe. The fireworks stand owners say show me the statistics that indicate “safe and sane fireworks” are a problem in D.C.

The last time the City Council dealt with this issue was in 2004. The bill to outlaw personal fireworks died in committee. But it should be noted that the co-sponsor of that bill is now Dennis Rubin’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Historical note: The police chief (not the fire chief) in Washington, D.C. banned all Independence Day fireworks in 1881. That was a one-time only deal due to President James A. Garfield being shot two days only.

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