Another 4th of July has come and gone and another successful fireworks show is in the books. I was a little worried because after the show, I normally like spending a few minutes with the township chairman to make sure he is happy, but I couldn’t find him. However, I did get a phone message from him yesterday indicating that he was very pleased with the show and had already had a number of people come by indicating they really liked it as well.
An article in the Wausau Daily Herald over the weekend made reference to the number of hours it takes to prep a show. That time was just the set up. Our crew arrived in Pell Lake around 4 PM and had the show set and ready to go by 8. However, that 4 hour prep time for a 35-40 minute show did not include the time it took for me to load and check all of the equipment and make sure that I had everything the crew would need. It also doesn’t include the clean up afterwards and not only the site clean up that those that ordered the show do the next day.
When we pack up after the show, we do it in a fairly big hurry. The local fire department provides us with a couple of their massive lighting units, and we don’t want to waste their time. We can normally have everything pulled up and loaded in 20-30 minutes. Last night I spend a couple of hours re-inventorying all of my safety equipment for the crew and re-loading it nice and neat in my equipment box. I still have to empty my trailer which currently has 10 racks for 3” shells (each rack has 10 tubes), 7 racks for 4” shells (each rack has 6 tubes), 5 racks for 5” shells (each rack has 4 tubes), 4 heavy steel tubes for 5”, and finally 4 really heavy steel tubes for 6”.
I used to store all of this equipment in one of my garages at an apartment complex, however I have rented out that garage as of the middle of July, so tonight I plan on clearing out an area in the back of my shed at home to store this equipment until next year.
During this year’s show, I let my brother in law carry the fire for a short while. For many years, he thought I was completely insane for working on a fireworks crew. Then four years ago, the first time doing the Pell Lake show, I was short a person and my sister talked him into helping out (that’s what family does, they help when needed). After that show, he was hooked. The sulfur and gunpowder and percussion of the shells leaving the tubes are highly addictive, as is the half-hour straight adrenaline rush.
He is my clean out. After launching a shell, he comes behind me with a long pole with nails in the end of it, shoves it down the tube, and uses the nails to pull out any paper or debris that might be left in the tube so it can be reloaded. It is a lot of responsibility because once the show starts, he is actually in charge of the crew.
My job is to light, that’s it. He is watching the shells to make sure the trajectory is okay and adjusting the tubes as needed. If any of the loaders are having any type of issues, if a safety cap came off or a shell wont load, they bring it to his attention and he handles it. I will go through 4-5 flares during the show and as one is running low and a call for one, it is his job to make sure a new one is ready before the old one dies so there is no pause in the show. If some of the burning paper falls on me, it is his job to notice if I am on fire and put me out. If something were to happen to me, I twist an ankle or get injured by a shell leaving the tube, if I am down; it is his job to grab the flare and keep going so that the crowd doesn’t know the difference. There is a lot of trust put in him as part of that job, and I have 100% confidence that things are being handled with the crew during the show so I can concentrate on one thing… the lighting the shells and keeping the proper timing.
For the last 3 or 4 rounds, I asked him to take the flare and finish the show. Most everything was loaded at that point so only the 6” shells needed to be cleaned. I would stay about 10’ back from him and point out things that come from years of doing this… such as knowing where we were in shell count so maybe on one round would pull an extra shell of a certain size.. or short a shell or two if it looked like we were running low.
Afterwards, I asked if he was ready to take over my job. No Thanks he said. He was happy to have the opportunity to see what it was like, but the percussions get to you after a couple of rounds, especially from the larger shells. There was the fumes from the flare, he didn’t understand how I could breathe (I do spend the next day after the show coughing). And the biggest issue that you never get used to is when you light one shell, turn away to minimize the percussion as it leaves the tube, lean in to light the next one and just as you lean in, you learn that that last shell ignited the next one and it leaves the tube just as you lean into it. It always catches you off guard and can knock your helmet off. It is why the #1 rule is never put anything over the tube you want to keep.
But as I said, another 4th has come and gone and days of work before and after led to another successful show. I don’t get paid very much for doing the shows. Once you figure in the equipment cost I provide, the gas to get there and back, giving the crew a few bucks to thank them for their work… I normally end up paying for the privilege to do the show. And you know what.. that’s fine. When it comes to about 9:30-ish on the 4th of July… I REALLY LOVE MY JOB!