I am copying this letter to Kevin O'Brien, who is our minister of Fire and Emergency Services in the province, in the hopes that future events at Centennial Park in Grand Falls-Windsor be closely monitored and inspected to ensure public safety. My own experience was confined to the VIP section of the concert so I will comment on that area.
Back in April one of my friends lined up in the wee hours of the morning to purchase VIP tickets for Salmon Fest as we were told the tickets would be limited to 2,500 and we wanted to secure the best available tickets that we could to ensure an optimal concert experience.
I can assure you that numbers inside the VIP section greatly exceeded 2,500 people. The number of 6,000 has been talked about and having been one of those in the totally over-crowded area, I would not be surprised.
Whether the additional people were given tickets as a promotion from the organizers or whether they jumped the fence into the section or whether they used someone else's stubs once those people had already gained admittance, I don't know, but the congestion in that area was frightening. In my opinion, there is no way that a fire marshall signed off on that number in such a confined space. People were smoking throughout the whole section and I didn't see any security personnel apart from right in front of the stage.
Concert organizers also allowed patrons to bring chairs into the concert which were set up haphazardly all over the section. While I agree that people should be able to sit during the concert, I think that controlled seating areas should be provided. Many people abandoned their chairs during the performance and these chairs then became obstacles for those on the concert grounds. Add to this the vast amount of litter throughout the grounds and you had a hazardous trek to leave the concert once it was over and in fact to stand during the concert.
The layout of the VIP area itself should be re-evaluated, as there was a serious bottleneck to get to and from the food and drink concessions and toilet area to the stage-viewing area. The Internet is full of comments regarding the complete lack of water for the event and the horrific lineups to get food and drinks, so I need not elaborate on that other than to say that these issues must also be addressed. With temperatures reaching 30 degrees, people must have timely access to water if nothing else.
My foremost concern was with security and safety at the concert.
With so many people crowded into such a confined area, we were very uneasy. If an emergency had occurred on the grounds, there would have been no way to get emergency help in or to safely get all those people out. Exits became very congested when people were leaving the concert as it was. I can only imagine what they would have been like if an emergency such as a fire required quick evacuation.
The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor and, in fact, the province have been promoting the Salmon Fest to encourage visitors to our province. Every year the event gets a little bigger and attracts bigger entertainment.
The current venue cannot accommodate these growing numbers. The venue has to be evaluated for capacity and strict control must be enforced in order to protect the people who attend this event in the future.
Once capacity for VIP and general admision has been set, colour-coded bracelets should be issued at entry and tickets should be taken. In addition, the grounds should be evaluated to ensure that there are sufficient emergency exits and I would like to see security numbers drastically increased and security personnel given necessary safety and crowd control training.
I am one of many people who are saying that unless the concert organizers, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor and the province address the many failings of this year's Salmon Fest, it will be my last. However, if the interested parties listen to the public's concerns and do their best to address them, then maybe Salmon Fest 2014 will inspire a positive letter of comment. I really hope it does!