Barbara Van Reed
Webster has been particularly fortunate to have had its own fireworks expert, someone who was able to do a spectacular display that became the envy of surrounding towns.
For 15 years, Arnie Villatico has been the man who's lit the fire for the brilliant annual 4th of July fireworks at Memorial Beach. A lifelong fireworks enthusiast, he made it his personal mission to give Webster the best fireworks display that money could buy. And people from miles around came to see it.
From all accounts, the July 2011 display was the best yet. But it may also have been the last. At least, it was Mr. Villatico’s last. He has retired, and now wants to thank all the people who helped him over the years to make the fireworks so successful.
The first person he acknowledges is former state representative Paul Kujawski, who was instrumental in finding underwriting for the fireworks six years ago. Prior to that, Mr. Villatico would cobble together donations and town grants to pay for fireworks, but six years ago, there just wasn’t enough money for it.
So he appealed to Mr. Kujawski, who reached out to Gerald Fels, who then donated the $25,000 necessary to light up the sky for an hour on the Fourth of July. He also provided the money for each of the four years after that. Therefore, Mr. Fels is the second person that Mr. Villatico wants to thank, for without him the last five years of fireworks would not have been possible.
He also wants to thank the Parks Department personnel and the volunteers who have helped him stage the fireworks for the last 15 years. He couldn’t have done it without their help, he said. He needed 15 to 20 volunteers each year to set up the thousands of shells in the display, and manually fire them.
Massachusetts has a new fireworks law that took effect January 1, requiring all fireworks to be lit electrically. For Webster this means that producing the same quality and quantity of fireworks will cost more and take longer to set up.
The nearly hour-long display last July included 6200 fireworks, with shells up to 10” in diameter. The final burst alone had 1300 shots. A ten-inch shell goes up 1000 feet in the air, and has a diameter of 500 feet. These larger shells are what made the Webster fireworks so special, said Mr. Villatico. Most local fireworks use smaller-diameter shells.
It took a day to set up the racks on Memorial Beach Island, with the parks people helping with the digging and sand moving. It took about three hours to take it all down. He estimates that with the electrical lighting, it will take three days to set up the same number of shots. More significantly, it will be less dramatic, as only 2500-3000 shells can be lit in the same amount of time. Several people manually can light them more quickly by handing off, loading, and firing one after the other in tandem.
And that is the crux of Mr. Villatico’s dilemma. He feels that with the new regulations he would not be able put on as great a display as he has in past years. “We’ve given the people a $50,000 show,” he said, “and I’d feel I’d be cheating them if I had to give them something less.”
Mr. Villatico’s passion for fireworks goes back to when he was eight years old and started helping set up displays. He has been a professional, licensed shooter for twenty years. Over that time he has done the fireworks displays for Worcester, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Hampton Beach, Salisbury, Charlton, Oxford, Uxbridge, Millbury and Douglas.
Does Mr. Villatico agree with the new law? He has no problem with it, he said. It’s for public safety. He himself has never had an accident. The accidents you read about are caused by amateurs, he said.
Mr. Kujawkski, for one, is disappointed to see the Webster fireworks disappear. “Arnie has put on a tremendous display every year,” he said. “It’s been one of the few events in Webster where you see families and generations going out and enjoying that time together.”
Would Mr. Villatico do it again if he could put on the show he’s used to doing? “Absolutely,” he said.
As of now, there are no fireworks planned for this year's July Fourth celebration. However, there is a grassroots movement underway to raise the $25,000 to still make it happen. The money would have to be raised by June 15. That's not a lot of time, but still provides a glimmer of hope for a dazzling display.
- Wednesday, 30 May 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor