When the Sydney Harbour Bridge launches a dazzling display of fireworks this New Year’s Eve, while most of us are scrambling for a view, Drew Jones will ensure the massive display is carried out safely from one of the best seats in the house. With more than a million people set to view the spectacular display from the Harbour foreshore and out on the water, Drew will be observing the show from a skyscraper high above the city with an elite team of pyro-technicians, security agencies, broadcasters and event planners.
Drew is the Senior Special Aquatic Events Officer for Roads and Maritime Services, the state agency responsible for ensuring boating safety across NSW waterways. His job is to provide a safe staging area on Sydney Harbour for the fireworks to be launched. He creates a safe exclusion zone for vessels to keep a safe distance from fireworks barges and the tonnes of gun powder that launch the fireworks into the sky.
Drew grew up in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, knocking about on sailing boats and catching the Lady-class ferries Cutler, Woodward and McKell with his sister from their home at Kirribilli to school in Neutral Bay. “The fare was two cents and passengers were supposed to pay the deckhand. After a while, we got to know the deckhands and they let us travel for free. Now and then they would let us ride in the wheelhouse too.”
Drew’s love of the sea spawned a life in sailing, including as a Boating Safety Officer for Roads and Maritime and as a sailing instructor, in addition to two years of sailing the Pacific Ocean with his wife on their own yacht.
Ensuring a safe fireworks display on the Harbour Bridge for New Year’s Eve is the culmination of many months of planning by Drew and his coordination team, event managers from the City of Sydney, Sydney Ports, Transport for NSW and security agencies, foreshore managers, local Councils, local Police commands and Harbour City Ferries. The coordination team’s main objective is to ensure more than a million people are able to access Sydney Harbour, enjoy the spectacular fireworks and return home again.
Installing an exclusion zone on Sydney Harbour to marine traffic is a rarity, as the core principle of safe management is to maintain public access. The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet direct that only events of national significance can require the closure of the harbour including New Year’s Eve, the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race on Boxing Day, the Ferrython on Australia Day and a few other select occasions.
Crunch time on New Year’s Eve comes just after midnight when five of the seven fireworks barges are towed from the centre of the Harbour following a safety cool-down period. The first vessel permitted to move is the Manly Ferry which proceeds under Water Police escort from Circular Quay. Once all agencies clear the area, the Harbour Bridge signs are changed to reopen the Harbour and to ensure an aquatic traffic jam does not eventuate under the Harbour Bridge.
Catching Drew when he’s not on duty managing special events is best on a Saturday morning when he rides his scooter over the Harbour Bridge with his kids, then catches a ferry back to Kirribilli. Keep a look out on the Harbour from one of your passing ferries, it may just be Drew taking his family for a sail.