A float meant to honor forgotten heroes of America’s Old West ended up breaking down and delaying other floats from traveling along Colorado Boulevard during Tuesday’s Rose Parade.
“We are disappointed by the incident, but life is full of trial and error,” Esther Lee, president of the Boston-based Chinese American Heritage Foundation (CAHF), the float’s sponsor, said when contacted Wednesday by the Pasadena Weekly. The 95-foot-long float commemorating the contributions of long-marginalized Chinese workers and laborers of other nationalities to connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, cost the nonprofit organization around $300,000. The total included construction costs and a $5,500 entry fee, according to the CAHF website.
“I felt I had experienced the difficulties of our ancestors who built the Transcontinental Railroad 150 years ago,” Lee said. But, she added, “We won’t get discouraged. In fact, this experience inspired us to work even harder on future projects to uplift all communities.”
Fiesta Parade Floats, makers of the float, may face a fine as a result of the delay caused when the float first starting belching white, noxious smoke near the start of the parade — at the corner of Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard.
An official with the TofR said safety is the association’s top priority.
“We are working with our technical inspectors, float construction, float operations and float builder teams to determine what led to the incident,” TofR spokeswoman Heidi Hoff said Wednesday. “At this time we do not have any conclusive information on what may have caused the fire and rapid evacuation of the float riders on the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float. We do know that everyone was evacuated from the float safely.”
Hoff explained the association will be reviewing its protocols and procedures for unexpected events in the coming days.
“Until the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float has been fully inspected and an incident report has been completed we are unable to determine what fines can or will be assessed,” Hoff said. “We have a long history of executing an incident-free parade and know that there is a lot to learn from yesterday’s experience.”
Fines issued against a float builder by the tournament could range from $1,000 to $80,000.
“We will be working with the tournament to determine and verify the cause of the leak and will (do so) once the float returns from the post parade showcase later today,” Fiesta Parade Floats President Tim Estes said in the statement issued Wednesday.
Hoff said the float inspection process should be completed in about three weeks.
The float, named “Harmony Through Union” and featuring two locomotives meeting head-to-head, was the brainchild of Lee’s husband, Wilson Lee, co-founder of the CAHF and the great-great-grandson of one of those railroad workers.
Descendants of Irish, African, German and Mexican railroad workers were also represented on the float. The theme of this year’s parade was “The Melody of Life.”
The float became disabled due to a reported transmission fluid leak, which somehow sparked a small fire that was immediately extinguished, said Pasadena police Chief John Perez, who was at the parade dressed in his uniform. Also there was Fire Chief Bertral Washington. Both men could be seen walking hurriedly toward the disabled float, about a block from where they were stationed during the parade. Designated No. 83 of 88 entries, the crippled float held up three marching bands and two other floats. A massive tow truck managed to get the CAHF float to the corner of Colorado Boulevard, but then stopped after making a wide turn and putting the float in the middle of Colorado at Orange Grove. At that point, another tow truck was brought in to help as people sitting in grandstands along Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards started to leave.
According to a statement from KTLA Channel 5 that was released by the TofR, the station was forced to tape the last two floats and one band, then edit the footage into its encore performances.
“As a result of the extended delay due to a disabled float during the Rose Parade, coverage of the three units at the end of the parade lineup, South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, the Underground Service Alert of Southern California and the Royal Swedish Cadet Band, were taped and included in all of KTLA’s encore broadcasts, on KTLA.com and in KTLA’s newscasts.”
The exclusion in the live broadcast of the South Pasadena float angered South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association Past President Michael McFatridge.
South Pasadena’s float “Three Little Birds” won the coveted Mayor’s Award. The float is based on the 1977 Bob Marley song and included animatronic birds with moving heads and wings.
“As Past President of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and former Construction Chairman, I am disheartened that the hard work of the many volunteers who spent countless hours designing, planning, fundraising, building and decorating all culminating in the thrill of driving your entry to the parade line was all for not (sic),” McFatridge wrote in a Facebook post to the TofR. “The Tournament of Roses must be held accountable for this farce.”
McFatridge said a float he was driving broke down, but was hauled away in three minutes due to his teams “practice and procedures.”
“Not getting that float moving quickly is the fault of the builder, the float aids, corner workers and the organizers as a whole. Because of this incompetence, millions of people were not able to see the remaining entries,” he wrote in his post. “I am proud of my hometown float. I am proud they won the Mayor’s Trophy. The only question to ask is this: what will the Pasadena Tournament of Roses do to make this right? The only option that makes sense is for the Tournament of Roses to fully reimburse the cost to building and decorate the floats that were not able to complete the parade. Make no mistake, when the cameras are turned off, and parade goers leave, the parade is OVER. I hope you find a way to do the right thing.”
Three bands managed to get around the disabled float, but the Three Little Birds and the Backyard Harmony Float were forced to endure a longer delay.
City spokeswoman Lisa Derderian, who formerly served as the city’s emergency manager with the Fire Department, said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
“We plan and prepare for scenarios like this throughout the year,” Derderian said.