Regulations, Liability End Christmas Event
By Jason Schreiber
Hampton Union, Friday, August 24, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
[Andrew Moore file photo]
HAMPTON -- The town's annual Christmas parade — a tradition that has put smiles on the faces of the young and old for generations — has been called off this year.
The announcement comes just days before a new state law goes into effect aimed at improving float safety following the death of Thomas Fogarty, a 9-year-old Greenland boy who died when he fell off a float in last year's Portsmouth parade.
Faced with growing safety concerns for children riding the floats and increased liability, the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce decided it had no choice but to cancel the popular holiday event.
"The last thing in the world we want is for anything to happen to a child," said chamber President Doc Noel.
The chamber has sponsored the parade in the past and, as host, would ultimately be held liable if a tragedy like the one in Portsmouth happened in Hampton, Noel said.
The chamber's board of directors wasn't willing to take any chances, he said.
"It was a very tough decision for the board," said Eileen Nevins, chairman of the chamber's executive board of directors. "We discussed it at length. The cost of the liability was just too great to undertake for a nonprofit."
The chamber considered the impact of legislation passed in July that puts new safety measures in place to protect children riding on parade floats.
The new law, which becomes effective Sept. 16, calls for better adult supervision when children are riding on floats.
Under the law, no vehicles with protruding wheels are allowed in parades unless the vehicle is suitably modified to protect both riders and pedestrians from the wheel assembly; at least one adult, other than the driver, must supervise children on a vehicle in a parade and have a way to communicate with the driver; and one adult would be required per every four children.
Additionally, children riding on a vehicle must remain entirely within the perimeter of the vehicle and, if standing, must be protected if the vehicle suddenly starts or stops. Violators would be fined $50 for a first offense, $100 for second or subsequent offenses.
Enforcing the new law would be tough, Nevins said, adding, "What are you going to do, have a policeman every quarter mile?""We hate to have it disappear because it's been here for as long as I can remember," she said. "It's just a sign of the times."
But while the parade is off, the chamber is still planning to host an event to brighten the holidays for the many families who have counted on the parade each year. Noel said a committee will begin looking at sponsoring some type of holiday event after the Seafood Festival is over. The event will be fully funded by the chamber, Noel said, because the chamber can't use the town money voters approved in March as those funds were specifically earmarked for the parade.
Meanwhile, some who have marched in past parades said that while disappointed, they understood the decision.
"A Christmas parade is a tradition, but I can't say I blame the chamber or leaders of the town given the risks involved and the liability," said Jeff Gasperoni, a leader with Hampton Cub Scout Pack 177 who marched in last year's parade with his son, Charlie.
Davina Larivee, who serves on the committee for Boy Scout Troop 177, agreed. Still, she said, the season will be different this year without the parade.
"The parade is just part of Christmas," she said.