BARNEGAT – Police Chief Keith Germain is quelling fears and concerns among residents after it was announced that Barnegat’s July 4th fireworks display has been relocated to the Barnegat High School for the 2020 celebration.
On January 8, Chief Germain took to the police department’s social media to explain how this decision came to be made and why.
“I understand that people appreciated the fireworks on the bayfront and are upset at the move. I have to shoulder the blame for this one,” he wrote. “The decision to move the fireworks to the high school was based upon my strong recommendation.”
Germain noted that, as a lifelong Barnegat resident, he and his family have long enjoyed the Bayfront fireworks display. First, as a kid living on Newark South Road with his parents; later, as a father with his wife and children at the condos across from the dock.
“For most of the fireworks displays since I moved out of that condo, I’ve been present for them wearing the French blue of the BTPD…While I love the fireworks over the water as much now as I did back when I was a kid, the world we live in, and the dangers it presents, have changed drastically over that 46 years,” said Germain.
While Germain outlines a few factors that ultimately led to the decision to relocate, the main reason is safety.
“Our fireworks display constitutes what the Department of Homeland Security defines as a mass gathering and, further, what is called a soft target,” he explained.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, a crowded place can be known as a soft target, such as sports venues, shopping venues, schools, and transportation systems. These are locations that are “easily accessible to large numbers of people and that have limited security or protective measures in place making them vulnerable to attack.”
While Barnegat may not be the biggest town with the largest population, Germain noted that there is still the threat of an attack.
“For those who say that we shouldn’t be concerned about a soft target attack here, I’d point out that Seaside Park– just over 20 miles away– suffered a soft-target attack with a pipe bomb just over 3 years ago,” he said.
Germain is referring to the 2016 bombing of the Semper Five Charity Run in Seaside Park.
“New York City, just over 2 years ago, saw 8 people killed by a terrorist who used a readily available truck to run down bicyclists and pedestrians– something that gave me pause this past year as I watched hundreds upon hundreds of you walking up to a mile in lines along the shoulders of Bayshore Drive and East Bay Avenue due to the lack of adequate parking at the dock,” he added.
After observing the sheer size of the crowds at the annual event combined with a 2019 warning from the Department of Homeland Security warning of terrorist attacks at 4th of July celebrations, Germain felt that Barnegat Police could not provide sufficient and comfortable protection.
Following some discussion with the Township Committee about alternative locations, officials decided on Barnegat High School for the following reasons:
- Parking: BHS and the Donahue School together have 723 marked parking spaces compared to the 250 at the municipal dock, in addition to spaces across the way at Project Playground
- Security: The high school area is easier than the dock for BPD to secure, providing ample room for spectators from both the BHS and Donahue properties
- Traffic: The BHS location allows for easier control of traffic with less officers (as well as experience doing so at regular high school events)
- Exits: There are multiple exit routes available including Pennsylvania Avenue and emergency egress via Periwinkle Drive
- Savings: The location reduces the number of officers needed to manage the event by approximately 30 percent
Barnegat Police has already received approval from the State Fire Marshall to hold the fireworks display on the BHS site.
“Based on all of these reasons, I made the recommendation to the Township Committee that the fireworks be moved to the high school. Again, I understand that this will prove unpopular to some, but it was the decision that I felt was best for the safety of our residents and visitors,” said Germain.
While the decision has been made, Germain noted that he is happy to field questions, concerns, complaints, “and even the occasional well-intentioned rant,” from residents. Those who wish to comment can reach him via the Barnegat Police Department Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 609-698-5000 ext. 203.