Fireworks don't just happen by themselves

Serious volunteer effort involved for local celebrations

The local fireworks displays count on volunteer helpers. Preparing fireworks Tuesday morning were Ron Fitzgerald from Las Vegas Nev., front left; Jack Mayberry from Tucson Ariz., back left; Mack Coker holding a bunch of shells referred to as sausages; Bill Sylskar from Forest lakes, right rear; and Tony Whetten from Prescott, Ariz., right front. Enlargephoto

PHOTO BY CAROLE MCWILLIAMS

The local fireworks displays count on volunteer helpers. Preparing fireworks Tuesday morning were Ron Fitzgerald from Las Vegas Nev., front left; Jack Mayberry from Tucson Ariz., back left; Mack Coker holding a bunch of shells referred to as sausages; Bill Sylskar from Forest lakes, right rear; and Tony Whetten from Prescott, Ariz., right front.

Bayfield's July 4 fireworks and Vallecito's fireworks on July 5 are dependent on a group of dedicated volunteers as well as community contributions.

Preparations started close to three weeks ago, fireworks coordinator Mack Coker said Tuesday. He showed off the trailer-mounted banks of mortar tubes of different diameters where individual fireworks shells are placed for launch. Each show will have 400 to 500 shells.

Leading up to the shows, each shell in its tube will have a wire connection to the electronic launch control board a (relatively) safe distance away from the explosives. "Pretty much everything being used now is new within the last few years, purchased with business donations," Coker said.

Up until a few years ago, shells were ignited by flares held by Upper Pine Fire District volunteer firefighters, which was a much more hazardous situation if anything went wrong.

Now the volunteers are guests at Coker's Riverside RV Park and others he has recruited.

Doing preparation work on the shells Tuesday morning were Jack Mayberry from Tucson Ariz., Ron Fitzgerald from Las Vegas Nev., Tony Whetten from Prescott Ariz., and Bill Sylskar from Forest Lakes. They were prepping one group of shells for Bayfield and another for Vallecito.

"This is what puts the shows together, volunteers from the RV park," Coker said. "We have very few volunteers in the fire department any more. Up until four or five years ago, they are the ones who launched the fireworks."

Other helpers were supposed to arrive at the RV park Tuesday from Arizona - Bill Reed and Coker's brother Benny.

"I'll rope anybody in that stands still," Coker said. The helpers have impressive backgrounds. Bill Reed is a retired aeronautical engineering teacher from Arizona State University. He also is retired as a colonel and a pilot in the Arizona Air National Guard. Coker commented that Reed could calculate a trajectory in his head. Jack Mayberry also is a retired colonel from the Arizona National Guard.

Benny Coker worked in explosives technology at TRW Safety Systems.

Tony Whetten is a retired America West pilot, Sylskar is a retired organizational and leadership consultant, and Fitzgerald is a retired sign installer in Las Vegas.

They help with the site work before the shows, stringing all the wires that connect the shells to the control board, Coker said.

"Me, Tony Whetten and Bill Reed, we've all taken multiple training classes at Western Pyrotechnics Association in Lake Havasu, Arizona, and from a pyrotechnics master, Mike Deans, who came through the RV park from Artesia, New Mexcio. In the years we haven't launched here, the three of us went to train with him" and help launch their $60,000-plus worth of fireworks.

"Of the top people involved with the fireworks, all five have at one time taken and passed the Pyrotechnics Guild International operators class and test," Coker said. "It takes all these people to make it happen."

For the last two years, Bayfield's July 4 fireworks were cancelled because of fire danger. Coker doesn't expect that to happen this year. "The fire department, all parties are planning to launch irrespective of outside area fires, thanks to (non-firefighter) volunteers."

Coker picked various shells out of their shipping boxes. From their names and size, he knows the shape, color, and sound of each one has when it explodes, and how far up it will go - generally 100 feet up for each inch of shell diameter.

Many of them are named after flowers, such as chrysanthemum, or trees, such as willow or palm. "Crackle" in the name refers to a sound the shell will make.

The Town of Bayfield and Vallecito Service League paid for most of the fireworks for the two shows, plus some paid by business donations. Coker predicts that fireworks shows in general will become more and more dependent on community donations as town budgets tighten.

Donations will be very welcome to help pay for a fireworks display during Bayfield Heritage Days, with the fireworks set for Sept. 27 this year.

For this Friday in Bayfield, Coker is looking for someone to feed the fireworks crew that evening. The Healy family at Vallecito Country Market is providing food for the launch crew at Vallecito.

The Bayfield fireworks will be launched from near the rodeo arena at the south end of Joe Stephenson Park.

At Vallecito, the best viewing will be from the Schank House area or the opposite side of the lake. Boats will be allowed on the lake during the show, except for the safety exclusion zone.

Both shows will have designated exclusion zones for spectator safety. If a boat goes into the exclusion zone at Vallecito, or someone goes into that zone at Joe Stephenson Park, the fireworks launches will stop immediately, Coker said.

He added that anyone setting off personal fireworks anywhere in the Upper Pine Fire District is subject to prosecution. "If you light 'em, somebody is coming after you."

Shown here are some of the trailer-mounted mortar tubes that will hold the fireworks for the shows in Bayfield and at Vallecito. Enlargephoto

PHOTO BY CAROLE MCWILLIAMS

Shown here are some of the trailer-mounted mortar tubes that will hold the fireworks for the shows in Bayfield and at Vallecito.