Behind the Scenes with Steve MacDonald
Steve MacDonald is a Firefighter and Public Information Officer for the Boston Fire Department, but he has also been heavily involved with the Fireworks Spectacular for many years. At the event, he is responsible for distributing credentials, working with the media, coordinating with the National Guard to set up the cannons, and assisting with the positioning of the fireworks barges in the Charles River.
Q: What are you doing the day before the event?
A: I distribute all of the credentials for the event to all the different agencies and groups that need them. I arrange for press tours of the barges to see the setup, and I arrange for interviews to help out the various media that want to find out more about the production. I bring the fireworks crew out to the barges, first thing, at 6 in the morning to get to work. Finally, I work with the National Guard and I coordinate the cannons before and during the event.
Q: What are you doing the day of the event?
A: I’m dealing with the media and making sure that everything is going fine on the media riser we have in front of the Oval. On the day of the event, I work with the National Guard to make sure they have their meals, and I deal with the fireworks and cannons. We like to fire the cannons before the event to test them and for fun, and we usually fire them about 30 times a day just for fun.
Q: When you hear “Fourth of July,” what do you think of?
A: This event. This is my 36th year doing it, so I’ve been doing it for a while. It’s a world-renowned event that is copied all around the country, but it all comes back to David Mugar and Arthur Fiedler. I think about the concert, the fireworks, what a great event it is and what it has become. It is all I’ve known for basically my whole adult life.
Q: What is your favorite part of the Fourth of July celebration?
A: The first time we fire during the 1812 Overture. There is very specific music and it is just a lot of fun when we fire the cannons. Most of the crowd knows it’s coming, and they’re excited, but its not often that you get to a see a full-size cannon fired up close.
Q: If you could meet anyone in history, who would you meet?
A: Any president while they get ready to make a decision that’s going to affect the world. I greatly admire people that have to make life-or-death decisions that have great consequences and what thought processes they go through. Now, I have the benefit of hindsight to see how that decision turned out, but back when we were a much younger country, it would be harder.
Q: What are the three objects you can’t live without on the Fourth?
A: A radio, shorts, and my cell phone.
Q: How did you get involved with the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular?
A: When David Mugar started it, he was working at WGBH Channel 2 in Boston. David would use the technical people at WGBH to help him put on the concert. He used the sound engineers and television people that worked there to help with the sound systems and things like that on the Fourth. In 1976, my cousin happened to be a sound engineer at WGBH. He called me up one day and said, “Hey, a bunch of us are going to put on this concert. Can you come help?” I went down, and as soon as I got there David Mugar handed me a portable radio. He said, “Go down by the Hatch. There are a bunch of cannons down there, and when I tell you to fire them, do it.”
Q: How has the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular changed since you started?
A: It has changed in probably every single way imaginable. It obviously has gotten much larger in size, but it has also grown in importance to the city, the region, and actually the country because people look forward to watching it on TV. It has grown into a Top 20 nationally televised event. It has gotten more sophisticated with sound systems and broadcasting technology. Every aspect of it has changed as technology has evolved. You have to remember, when we started, we had no cell phones and the fireworks were set off with flares. To get the sounds of the church bells ringing, we literally took speaker wire and dragged it across the street to the belfry. It has really grown in every way, and it is more sophisticated. David was the pioneer in organizing unified command systems, where the agencies get together and coordinate before the event. No one did that before David, and now everyone does. Every time there is a major event in the Boston area, the organization goes back to David’s vision of how to run an operation and coordinate a bunch of agencies.
Q: What effect has working on the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular had on you?
A: I’ve been doing it for so long. It has been nothing but a positive experience all these years. We surround ourselves with great people, We’re good at what we do and we know what we’re doing. My co-workers and my friends associate me with this event. It helps you to deal with all sorts of things. My real job with the Boston Fire Department and working with the media and press all evolved from this job.
Q: What are you thinking/feeling on the day of the show, after all of your preparation is done?
A: The first thing I always hope for is good weather because that drives the day and sets the tone of the event. You want the weather to be great so that people can enjoy the event, enjoy some great music, and see some world-class fireworks. At the end of the day, if we had no mishaps and everyone got to see the fireworks, then I am more than satisfied.