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An unusual Fourth of July in Washington

Crackles and booms were plentiful as fireworks lit up Beaufort County’s skies over the past weekend. Donned in their most patriotic clothing, families and friends gathered for cookouts and other parties, something they hadn’t been able to do for most of the past year.

But for many Washington residents, the Fourth of July just didn’t feel right. The city didn’t hold its usual fireworks display this year, leaving locals to come up with other plans. For many, that meant either setting up fireworks at home or heading out of town to see a display in another municipality.

Upon hearing that Washington’s show was called off this year people expressed their frustration and confusion in-person and on social media. That’s understandable; after all, why wouldn’t the seat of Beaufort County want to bring in perhaps hundreds of visitors to see fireworks and get a taste of what the city has to offer?

The city did want to have that opportunity. But the reason why they couldn’t was largely out of the city’s control — and it goes to show that even the fireworks industry still has a ways to go in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again throughout the past year: a company lets go of some employees due to financial and operational issues caused by the pandemic. When things start getting back to normal, the company struggles to refill those positions because many of their past employees either aren’t seeking work or they’ve found work elsewhere.

That’s the problem fireworks vendors are facing. And because many of their employees are required to earn pyrotechnic certifications, the process of solving that problem is even more complicated.

So the main reason why the city didn’t have a major fireworks display this year wasn’t because of a lack of trying, nor was it due to supply chain issues. There is simply a shortage of certified pytrotechnic display operators, one that evidently was too significant to make a display feasible.

The circumstances were unfortunate, but there was a bright side to the situation. Those in search of a fireworks display headed to local municipalities such as Belhaven, Chocowinity, thereby benefitting the businesses in those areas and shifting the spotlight to towns that might not always get that opportunity on major holidays.

If all goes well, fireworks will light up Washington’s sky during the Summer Festival, which is scheduled for Aug. 27-28. That will mark another major step in the return to normalcy — and if that process continues, we hopefully won’t have to worry about whether any municipality will be able to properly celebrate the Fourth for years to come.