An East Coast company meets security and weather challenges to provide tenting for nuclear submarine launches.
When Steven and Helen Szondy emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1950, they settled in Fairfield, Conn., a charming and vibrant coastal city that boasts five miles of shoreline on the Long Island Sound. Six years later, in true entrepreneurial spirit, the couple launched a small business, renting party supplies to local residents in Westport and White Plains, N.Y. After 20 years of running the business, their son George Szondy took the helm, consolidated everything into the present location and in 1989 added tent rental to the company’s inventory. Now George is president and 88-year-old Helen still comes to work once or twice a week to look in on the office.
As do many tent and event renters, Abbey Tent and Party Rentals Inc. provides services for corporate events, weddings, backyard events and graduations. (Yale University in New Haven, Conn., is one of its returning clients.) It has also provided event services for the U.S. Secret Service, the White House and for U.S. Navy nuclear submarine launches at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.
Providing services for submarine launches and keel layings (the beginning of the submarine building process) comes with some unique challenges—which were met thanks to a conscientious crew and the leadership of Rob Jeffers, Abbey Tents’ tent rental division manager. Security is of paramount importance for these types of events and as a part of the security plan, cell phones were prohibited on-site. “Not having cell phones meant we were out of communication with people off-site,” says Steve Bombino, sales and operations director for Abbey Tent. “All communication regarding the event had to take place before our team set foot on-site. The facility is vast—we’re talking several miles—and it has something like 15,000 people working there so it’s not like we could relay messages through the security office either. The security plan alone took weeks to plan out.”
The other major challenge had to do with safety and the weather. One launch the company did took place in December several years ago and the other in November 2013. “It’s winter and you’re pretty much setting up out in the middle of the harbor so it’s very challenging for crews,” Bombino says. “Installers have to wear harnesses on certain areas of the dock—as well as winter clothes and floatation devices.”
Keeping an eye on industry changes
Providing services for submarine launches is only one aspect of the business. As a concerned industry member providing tents for a variety of events, Abbey Tent and its staff keep an eye on industry changes and are currently watching to see if changes are made to wind rating regulations. “The safety problems we’re seeing have more to do with people who aren’t professionals. The wind-related bounce house incidents are creating an issue, as are festivals where people set up their own 10-by-10-foot pop-ups that aren’t properly weighted or not weighted at all,” Bombino says. “Once someone takes the first step and puts some of these new ratings into law, other municipalities will follow suit. We just hope the regulations they come up with are reasonable.”