Bangor organizers prepared for July 4 festivities, hope to recover from 2013 tragedy

Viewed from atop Hollywood Slots Hotel, thousands watch the Fourth of July fireworks explode over the Penobscot River between Bangor and Brewer.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Viewed from atop Hollywood Slots Hotel, thousands watch the Fourth of July fireworks explode over the Penobscot River between Bangor and Brewer.
Posted June 22, 2014, at 3:51 p.m.
Last modified June 23, 2014, at 10:09 a.m.
Amy Gailitis looks through photographs of her father, Wallace &quotWally" Fenlason, on July 5, 2013.  Wallace Fenlason died during the parade on the Fourth of July in Bangor last year.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Amy Gailitis looks through photographs of her father, Wallace "Wally" Fenlason, on July 5, 2013. Wallace Fenlason died during the parade on the Fourth of July in Bangor last year.

BANGOR, Maine — Organizers of Bangor’s Fourth of July festivities say they’ve spent hundreds of hours planning this year’s events and hope to help the community heal after a tragic end to last year’s parade.

On the morning of July 4, 2013, a despondent man started firing shots out the second-floor window of his Park Street apartment. Police cordoned off the area, beginning an hours-long standoff.

Meanwhile, people already had begun to assemble in Bangor and Brewer for that morning’s parade. Organizers expected more than 30,000 people to line the streets to watch and hundreds more to participate. Rather than call the event off, organizers and public safety officials decided to reroute the parade down Water Street to ensure people weren’t in harm’s way.

During the parade, a 1930 McCann firetruck turned right to follow Wallace Fenlason, 63, of Holden, who was driving a vintage 1941 John Deere tractor, down the hill onto Water Street. It was the steepest part of the parade route. The truck couldn’t slow down. It struck the back of the tractor, throwing Fenlason to the ground before running him over.

An investigation later revealed that the firetruck had insufficient brake fluid, preventing the 12,800-pound pumper from coming to a stop, even though the firefighter driving the truck had the brake pressed to the floorboard.

“There will probably never be another July Fourth that I and everyone involved in last year’s tragic accident don’t reflect on 2013,” Bangor Fire Chief Scott Lucas said in a recent interview. “On this July Fourth, I will be thinking of and praying for everyone involved in that tragic accident, while working to ensure a similar situation never happens.”

The McCann is stored on Bangor International Airport property and likely will stay there for the foreseeable future, according to Lucas.

Doug Damon, a former state representative and Bangor Kiwanis member who heads up parade planning, said the Kiwanis’ Fourth of July Corp. and its members have spent “hundreds of hours” considering ways to ensure this year’s parade stays safe.

Organizers have added a line to the application form for parade participants that asks them to acknowledge that their vehicles are safe to operate. Legally, that doesn’t shift liability or require a participant to take their vehicles in for an inspection, attorneys have told Damon.

“It does, at least to the best of my ability, get the operator or the organization to look at the vehicle and say, ‘Is it safe to be in the parade?’” Damon said.

The city-owned firetruck was not registered and did not have an annual inspection, both of which are required for vehicles that operate on public roads. Parade routes, however, are not considered public ways because they are closed to traffic. Antique vehicles aren’t required to be inspected, in part because few would meet modern inspection standards and there aren’t set standards that can be applied to antique vehicles, Damon said.

“We can’t do inspections on parade day, there isn’t time or space,” Damon said, adding that it’s unlikely organizers could find anyone to conduct those pre-parade inspections because that might open the inspector up to liability in the event of a crash.

Organizers expect 50-60 vehicles to participate in this year’s parade.

Lucas said the fire department will not be running any antique vehicles in this parade.

“We will still be participating,” he said. “We will be using our heavy-rescue frontline vehicle,” and paramedics will ride the parade route on bicycles.

The parade is expected to follow its normal route this year — down Wilson Street in Brewer, over the bridge into Bangor, right onto Main Street proceeding through downtown, then a right onto Exchange Street, where the parade disassembles.

In the event of some unforeseen emergency circumstance, event organizers will meet with public safety officials and come up with a new plan, according to Damon. That could mean anything from changing the route to canceling the parade.

“We would work the same way if something happened this year,” Damon said. “No decisions would be made in a vacuum. If it was dangerous to spectators or participants, we would most likely call the parade off or just do a Brewer run.”

“As tragic as [last year] was, to heal the wounds we have to go on and continue having the parade, saluting our veterans, enjoying the clowns and listening to the bands,” Damon said.

Fourth of July events start with a pancake breakfast 6-10 a.m. at the Brewer Auditorium. The cost is $6 for adults, $3 for children. The parade launches from Brewer at 11 a.m.

Festivities continue that afternoon, with the Chords for Cure concert starting at 2 p.m. on the Bangor Waterfront. The show is free, but all donations go toward the Eastern Maine Medical Center Foundation. Immediately after the last concert performance wraps up at 9:30 p.m., fireworks are scheduled to be launched from the Penobscot River.

For more information on Bangor’s Fourth of July celebration, visit www.bangoronthefourth.com.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the role of Doug Damon. He is a former state representative.

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