BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Organizers say everything went smoothly during the Danvers Family Festival’s fireworks, despite new, tighter security measures in Plains Park.
It was also smooth sailing in Salem. Unlike Danvers, however, officials did not secure Derby Wharf, part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
In Danvers, law enforcement officials used barricades, bag checks, limited entrance points and a strict ban on coolers and backpacks to secure Plains Park for the fireworks show.
No one was allowed into the park until 4 p.m., and then people had to pass through checkpoints. Food and beverages had to be carried in clear plastic bags. All other bags, such as purses and diaper bags, were screened and tagged. Organizers who normally deal with a lot of trash removed trash barrels from the park and instituted a “carry in, carry out” policy.
It was all done in the name of public safety, in light of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April.
And though it made for some inconvenience at first, Selectman Gardner Trask said it “went very smoothly.” A line formed to get into the park at 4 p.m., he said, but it cleared after about 15 minutes and didn’t reoccur later as “bursts of people” came to the park.
Trask, a member of the festival board, worked the crowd at the main entrance, steering people with bags and personal items to certain screening lines. Those without any personal items used other lines to get right into the park.
“The fencing seemed appropriate, and police used discretion when looking in bags, whether it was a diaper bag or a purse,” Trask said.
Bill McKenzie, co-chairman of Danvers Family Festival, said it “went a lot smoother than I thought it was going to. The numbers were down, but the incidents were down.” The crowd built later in the afternoon than usual, around 7 p.m.
Salem, too, had a trouble-free fireworks festival on Thursday.
“Everything went well,” said Ellen Talkowsky, special projects coordinator for the Salem Department of Public Services.
“It couldn’t have gone smoother,” said Salem police Capt. Brian Gilligan. “There were no major incidents that I was aware of.”
Gilligan said the nature of the fireworks in Danvers and Salem are different. Danvers draws a bigger crowd, and the event takes place over a longer period of time.
In Salem, while there is an orchestra that starts playing around 7 p.m., there’s a “small, manageable crowd” until 8:45 p.m. or 9 p.m. when the crowd really builds. Salem does not ban coolers, but most people don’t bring them anyway. And while bag checks would also be hard to pull off in the city neighborhood, most people who attend do not carry them, he said.
“With us, it’s making sure we have the appropriate number of people on, the right supervising plan,” Gilligan said. “It’s vigilance.”
About 20 to 25 officers, some on bikes and others on all-terrain vehicles, get out into the crowd to monitor behavior. Police also did not have any “hardcore intelligence” of any possible incidents.
“We try not to turn the event into a police state,” Gilligan said. “We try to be as vigilant as possible.”
That’s not meant as criticism of Danvers’ approach to the event, he stressed, adding that such measures work to make people feel secure.
“It sent a message about public safety there,” he said.
Trask said Danvers police, state police, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies worked to make the Danvers fireworks as safe as could be.
“They really made it as seamless as possible,” Trask said. “There was a strong police presence in the park, which added to the comfort level of the participants.” It was law enforcement officials, not the Danvers Family Festival organizers, who recommended the level of security this year, Trask said.
Initially, McKenzie feared the measures would create chaos as people lined up to get in, but that didn’t happen.
“It went well,” McKenzie said. Any incidents that did occur happened outside the park.
And there was an unexpected benefit: virtually no trash.
With barrels removed for security, McKenzie was concerned the park would be strewn with trash. But the ban on backpacks and coolers kept people from carrying stuff in, and volunteers were on hand to empty trash bags at food trucks that were part of a new food truck festival.
“I do want to thank everyone who helped out down there,” McKenzie said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.