Hay River once again welcomed the new year with a bang.
On Dec. 31, hundreds of people gathered for a spectacular fireworks show on the river.
And once again this year the annual celebration was presented by the Hay River Fire Department.
Fire Chief Ross Potter said there is no trouble getting volunteers for the event from among the firefighters.
“It’s kind of a blast to do it,” he said with a laugh. “I love setting off fireworks, to be honest with you.”
It is also a way for the fire department to give back to the community.
“This is one of the exercises where we can go out as a group and give to the community,” said Potter, adding that 10 to 12 firefighters are involved in the event.
While he has been directly involved in the fireworks show in the past, Potter offered advice this year as the show was supervised by Fire Capt. Ralph Sanguez.
The fireworks show is one of the exciting parts of being a firefighter, Sanguez explained, adding that his volunteer service on the department involves responding to fires and going on ambulance calls when people are in need of help.
“This is the fun part,” he said, while helping to set up the fireworks on the afternoon of Dec. 31.
There were New Year’s Eve fireworks in Hay River in the 1980s but not in the 1990s.
The fireworks returned for what was to be a one-time appearance for the arrival of the new millennium at the beginning of 2000.
“I think people enjoyed the show so much that we just continued on with it from that point on,” said Potter.
The fire chief said that from 2000 to last year the show had been supervised by Deputy Fire Chief Vince McKay, who this year actually went on a trip over the holidays.
“He hasn’t had a New Year’s off since 2000,” said Potter.
About five years ago, the New Year’s Eve fireworks actually became two shows with an 8 p.m. smaller show for families in addition to the traditional midnight event.
“It actually started when a bunch of us got our licensing for helping to set up a show,” Potter explained as to why the 8 p.m. show began. “So we used that as the training opportunity and the fire department was buying the fireworks so we’d get our guys trained. We had to get three shows before we could become show supervisor.”
The department now has about eight members licensed for pyrotechnics.
Without that licensing, the department would only be able to offer smaller fireworks displays.
“We can blast up to six-inch shells, whereas most small communities can get away with family fireworks because they don’t have show supervisors or people that are licensed through the government to do this type of thing,” Potter explained.
The Hay River show launches fireworks shells ranging in size from 76 mm to 155 mm.
Potter stressed that safety is the first priority for any fireworks show, and that includes making sure the winds are acceptable and the airport has been advised of the event.
The Town of Hay River supports the fireworks show with about $8,000 each year.
“Having the fireworks is a great way to celebrate the year and look forward to the coming year,” said Mayor Brad Mapes. “2015 was probably not the best year for our community but there are a lot of bright things that are coming forward.”
Mapes said the fireworks are a great way to bring people together and promote community spirit.
The fireworks are the highlight of the Festival at the Forks, where the Hay River splits into the West and East Channels.
The event features a bonfire, music and hot chocolate and cookies as people wait for the New Year to arrive.
“It’s a great experience. It’s a great show,” said Dale Loutit, the festival co-ordinator and the recreation programmer with the Town of Hay River. “Every year it’s been amazing.”