How It Works: The Oak Bluffs Fireworks


The Oak Bluffs fireworks don’t just fall from the sky. They’re only possible because of the tireless work of the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association (OBFCA), the fundraising arm of the Oak Bluffs Fire Department.

Members of the OBFCA volunteer their time to raise money for worthy Island causes, such as Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, scholarships for high school students, and financial support for injured Oak Bluffs firefighters and EMTs. And the proceeds from the annual fireworks show make all this good work possible.

Staging the show requires pretty much a year-round effort. Budget meetings begin in the fall, and by the first of the year, the push is on. Logistics have to be coordinated with the US Coast Guard, the town of Oak Bluffs, the police department, and fire departments from Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, and Falmouth. Permits have to be obtained, T-shirts designed, ordered, and distributed....The list goes on.

“A lot of sweat goes into putting on the fireworks,” explains John Rose, the Oak Bluffs fire chief. “We figure it takes about eleven hundred man-hours each year. And it’s all volunteered.”

Fundraising takes off starting Memorial Day weekend. The OBFCA depends on Island businesses and individuals for donations, plus volunteers are busy selling T-shirts on the weekends.

And then there’s the big day.

“Fireworks day starts around 5:30 a.m.,” explains Chief Rose. “We send two pump trucks to supervise the loading of the fireworks onto the barge, and while that’s going on, another group sets up barricades in Ocean Park, ropes off parking lots in Sunset [Lake] Park and Waban Park, and checks on about one hundred eighty ‘No Parking’ signs we’ve put out. There’s always hooligans destroying the signs so we have to keep them up.”

The Oak Bluffs Fire Department is responsible for firefighting and emergency medical services for the crowd, so by the time the show begins, they have strategically positioned about fifteen ambulances and fire trucks throughout the area.

Brenden Cooney, the OBFCA treasurer, explains, “We also have four EMTs riding around on bikes because if something happens, sometimes it’s tough to get an ambulance in.”

In addition to overseeing activities on land, the fire department also coordinates activities on the water. The popular event draws a sizeable fleet of pleasure craft each year, and patrolling the anchorage are two boats from Oak Bluffs, one from Edgartown, and one from the Coast Guard.

After the show, all the barricades and parking signs must be taken down, and the cleanup begins.

“After the show we provide about twenty-five volunteers to help the fireworks company dispose of all the spent shells and casings and help bring the cannons up off the beach and load them. It’s usually close to midnight before we can go home.”

So what happens if it rains?

“If there’s a stiff wind blowing onto the shore, or if there is rain and thunderstorms, we can’t have the show, and the rain date is the next day,” explains Chief Rose.

What complicates matters is that once the shells are loaded in the cannons, they can’t be unloaded, nor can they be allowed to stay for an extended period of time, because they’ll be affected by moisture. Fortunately, whenever the show has been postponed in the past, it’s always been able to take place the following day.

The total tab for the show runs around $35,000, and especially of late, because of the tightened economy, it’s been tough to reach that goal.

“Last year,” explains Chief Rose, “we realized we weren’t going to make enough money to fund our scholarships and other programs. We were going to do all this work to have a beautiful fireworks show and not make any money for our other projects, so we decided we couldn’t do it.”

Fortunately, an angel appeared.

“I got a phone call,” recalls Anita Billings, the OBFCA secretary, “from someone wanting to know when the fireworks were going to be next year. I told him we weren’t going to have them and he was beside himself. Turns out he was a vice president at the BET Network and he called back later, and they made a very generous donation.”

So when you’re in Ocean Park marveling at the pyrotechnic display overhead, understand that an equally impressive show takes place on the ground, making all that magic possible.