The president of the Texas firm that put on this year’s Fourth of July fireworks show at Cielo Grande Recreation Area told the Daily Record Thursday he knows the show was lacking and he wants another chance to prove his firm to the city of Roswell and its citizens.
Jesse Williams, president of Precision Fireworks of Era, Texas, offered to host another fireworks show in the city free of charge, perhaps on Halloween night, Christmas or on New Year’s Eve.
“I am disappointed that the show was very poor. I felt like we failed at it and that’s something that I don’t like to have in my vocabulary, is failure,” Williams told the newspaper Thursday. “I want to make it right for the citizens. I feel terrible about it.”
Several local residents told the newspaper that Tuesday’s annual Mike Satterfield Memorial Fireworks Extravaganza, sponsored by the city and the Roswell Sertoma Club, was the least impressive pyrotechnic show the city has ever sponsored. Others complained that the music simulcast on local radio did not match up with the fireworks as they were set off at Cielo Grande Recreation Area.
Moreover, the fireworks show was delayed for about 25 minutes from its 9:15 p.m. scheduled start, due to winds. Many in the large crowd did not wait for the grand finale before leaving as long lines of vehicles exiting the recreation area formed at about 10 p.m., while the fireworks were still in progress.
A city spokesperson said in an unusual statement Wednesday that the lackluster fireworks show was the result of a poor performance by the contractor the city hired for $45,000 to take over the annual pyrotechnic display.
“The city and (Roswell Fire Department) are well aware many citizens share the disappointment left by this year’s fireworks show,” city spokesperson Todd Wildermuth said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon. “The city and RFD will be determining the steps that must be taken to restore the quality of the Roswell fireworks show and ensure there are no more ‘duds’ allowed during our community’s Fourth of July celebration.”
Wildermuth said Precision Fireworks of Era, Texas, has a good resume. The firm’s references include the cities of El Paso, Elephant Butte and Eagle Pass, Texas, Southern New Mexico Speedway, the Hyundai Sun Bowl and San Antonio Raceway, according to its website.
“However, the show that it produced in Roswell this week was extremely disappointing,” Wildermuth said in the statement. “The company’s preparation and final product — which it was to handle in full, from the fireworks to the music — fell well short of the expectations and requirements of the city and RFD. This occurred despite the company being well-informed when it accepted the job of the specifications of prior shows and the requirement that this year’s show would have to meet or exceed those specifications.”
Wildermuth’s statement contradicted news releases the city issued Monday and on June 9, when recreation superintendent Laurie Jerge said city personnel would handle the fireworks.
“The Fourth of July event at Cielo Grande takes place thanks to the work of the Sertoma Club — a local community service organization — and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, Fire Department and Street Department,” states the news release from Jerge. “Roswell Fire Department personnel, who have received special training, will set up and launch the show.”
“That’s inaccurate,” said Precision Fireworks leadshooter Stephen Fox, who was in charge of the Roswell fireworks show.
Fox said the Roswell Fire Department’s involvement was minimal at Tuesday’s show.
“There was no Roswell Fire Department there, other than the standby,” Fox said Thursday night.
Williams said he was surprised at the city statement on Wednesday. He said everything that could go wrong, did. Williams said the problems with the Roswell show were due to technical issues and time constraints.
“I was reached at about 9:38 p.m. (CST) July 4 by (Fire Chief) Devin (Graham),” Williams said. “He called me screaming, cussing, everything else, telling me that the show was going to be f’d up. That’s 45 minutes before the showtime and I’m in Texas handling all our shows. So, what am I supposed to do with no notice?
“Devin did say that there was a major wind issue. That was the start of what delayed it. There were issues on our end as far as the electric match, called e-match. We use that to electronically fire all the fireworks. In all our shows we had failures because of this match from a supplier that we bought all of this from.”
Williams said Fox drove from Las Cruces to Oklahoma City to pick up new electronic matches. Fox said he returned to Roswell at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Fox said about 60 of the Roswell show’s 300 shells weren’t set off because of the electronic match failures.
“That show in Roswell should take three or four days to set up,” Williams said. “There’s issues on our part and there’s also issues within Roswell. I sent the first product count Feb. 16 and I sent the contract March 7. We didn’t receive a signed contract back until May 22 and we didn’t receive a deposit until June 1. It takes months and months of preparation to design one of these shows, four to six months, if not longer. I take responsibility. We took it on. I feel like we shouldn’t of and we wouldn’t be in this boat. But they were desperate. Devin was calling me, just desperate for us to do it. Everything that could go wrong went wrong on our end. I apologize to everyone.”
Williams said his company performed over 10 shows July 4 with replacement electronic matches after problems were found with the matches at a show Saturday in Texas.
“All our shows went fine,” Williams said. “I’ve talked with all my upper-management groups and they’re completely satisfied with all their shows. Just things didn’t go well in Roswell, obviously. For the most part, it was an e-match failure.”
Williams said he has offered to host a free makeup show in Roswell, but he said Thursday he had not received a response from the city.
“I let the city manager know, call me as soon as possible,” Williams said. “He has not returned my call or emails. I did advise Devin that I want to make this right for the community, the city of Roswell, whether it be a Christmas fireworks show, a New Year’s show or supplying them with the fireworks for next year’s July 4 show. They have yet to tell me. I want to make it right, a 100 percent right, before the 4th. I will pay for everything, a 100 percent and do a show off-date. I just want to make it right.
“I told them that I will personally come do it and I will pull everyone from within the company to do this, whether it’s Christmas, New Year’s, Halloween. I’ve done Halloween shows with music. It doesn’t matter, as long as we can have a shot to prove to the city, the citizens, the community. That’s all I’m asking for.”
Williams said the city has not asked for a refund.
“But with all the costs incurred on this, it’s not feasible,” he said. “It would be better for me to prove to ourselves that we can put on a very good show for the city. Like I said, no one’s contacted me. I heard from Devin July 4, screaming, cussing at me at 9:38 p.m. and I’ve heard from no one else other than an email from the city manager.”
In a letter to Precision Fireworks from city manager Joe Neeb dated Wednesday, Neeb expressed the city’s disappointment with the show.
“It is with regret that I am sending this email letter but you need to be aware of the city’s disappointment with last night’s show,” Neeb wrote in the email obtained by the newspaper. “It is understood that Fire Chief Graham has spoken to someone from your company about the matter. While I wish there were only a couple of hiccups throughout the process, this was not the case. There were issues from the setup to the delivery of the show. The fire department has prepared a public notice apologizing to our citizens for the disappointing show but I wanted to make sure you were aware of our concerns. Please make a note that we do not plan to utilize your services in the future.”
Kintigh said Thursday he was impressed by Williams’ gesture offering a free makeup show.
“I appreciate very much their offer,” the mayor said. “It is impressive. We always have to bear in mind that, despite the best intentions, things don’t always go as planned. When they don’t, credible organizations make amends.”
Wildermuth said for the past 20 or so years, the Roswell Fire Department has planned, set up and launched the fireworks for the annual shows. Shortly after the 2016 fireworks show, city and RFD officials began considering preparations for this year’s show, and it was decided to hire a contractor to put on the 2017 show, Wildermuth said.
City staff made the decision to utilize a private contractor, not the Roswell City Council, Kintigh said. There was no mention of a private contractor, or $45,000 associated costs, in any of the city’s pre-event announcements.
The mayor said the fireworks job was given to a private contractor to save the city money.
“The effort here was to try to reduce Fire Department overtime, save some money, which is a noble and appropriate thing to do, ” Kintigh said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out — this time, it apparently didn’t. That doesn’t mean that we can’t do it again, but maybe we go back to what we had been doing before.”
Wildermuth said a contractor can be hired for about the same costs to purchase the fireworks and pay the overtime costs of firefighters to set up and carry out the show.
“At the same time, putting the show in the hands of a contractor removed city firefighters from the inherent risks faced by personnel involved in the preparation and execution of a fireworks show,” Wildermuth said.
Interim editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at email@example.com.