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Voyageur's Best Features of 2005

Painting the sky

Painting the sky
Big Sandy crew responsible for 4th of July fireworks displays
by Kaylyn Messer  |  July 12, 2005

The will and determination of a fireworks crew is led by the wish to ‘do something for the community and be proud to be part of it.’ Licensed pyrotecnician, Wayne Floe, of the Shamrock Area Lakes Association has led and trained a crew of dedicated individuals in the setup and firing of area fireworks since before 1996 when he received his pyrotechnic license.

Interested individuals, friends of the family and associations make up the Floe Fireworks crew. Everyone is a volunteer and Wayne stated that it is their effort that gets the job done.

This year’s crew included Rick Borden, Russ Larson, Dean Anderson and his son, Derek, Scott King-Ellison, Jessi and Jim Gondek, Scott Anderson, Craig Anders, Vern Awes, Mark Krezowsky, and Bruce Miller. Helping in the Tamarack shoot were Doug Huberty (Wayne’s father-in-law), Brett Nelson, Mark Murtha, Bruce Miller and Jeff Prichard, who was visiting Wayne from Colorado, as well as the Tamarack crew of Cheryl Meld, Bob Merrit, Steve Frauenshuh, Bob Johnson and Tony Sellers. Marve Wyman and also Brett Nelson are key people in the New Year’s fireworks show on Minnewawa as well as many other people who put in their time and effort.

The fireworks show on Big Sandy is funded by donations raised by SALA, the Shamrock Area Lakes Association, which was co-created by Wayne and Dave Tjosvold to help tackle issues in the areas such as the fireworks display and marking lake snowmobile trails.

This year’s fireworks display (including advertising) cost in excess of $10,000. Wayne was able to negotiate a wholesale deal with Precocious Pyrotechnics, who design shells for Disney, for the price half of what it would normally be to ensure a spectacular show for a low price. All funds were raised by a marketing tactic used by SALA.

Wayne also dedicates four days of work in preparation to the 4th of July show and three days to the New Years show on Minnewawa.

This year, the Big Sandy crew prepared two shows for the 4th of July weekend. The main show at Big Sandy on July 3rd and an additional show at Tamarack was done on July 4th. Tamarack was in need of a pyrotechnician and a week before the show Wayne agreed to help out and order the fireworks. Cheryl Meld helped organize the show and said Wayne was able to provide them with pointers on how to improve the site for future fireworks displays. “Everything we have heard about the show has been real positive,” said Cheryl.

‘Pyros: A word on safety while preparing the shells’ reads the handout each worker gets before setting up a show. The paper was written by Wayne and outlines steps to perform each operation efficiently and, above all, safely. In addition to the handout, each crew member goes through a training session with Wayne and is required to fill out a form before touching a shell. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms requires these restrictions to ensure the safest possible outcome.

The procedure of preparing fireworks begins with sorting and cleaning the mortar tubes. The mortar tubes are sized specifically to the shell it will hold. The explosives range from 3 to 12 which represents the number of hundreds of feet it will travel in the air before exploding and are comparable in size to a grapefruit all the way to a small pumpkin.

After each shell is cleaned, boxes are unloaded from a trailer and each explosive is carefully placed in a mortar tube and the fuse is draped over the side. Smiles and jokes pass between the crew as they cautiously load each tube. When the trailer of mortar shells begins to fill, members of the crew begin to insert electric matches and connect the wires which will later fire the explosives from a switchboard. Everyone participates and the operation moves on like a well-oiled machine. Idle hands are never a concern as each person participates because it is something they enjoy doing.

Once all of the tubes are properly loaded, Dean Anderson and Wayne perform a continuity check to make sure that all of the wires are working and connected correctly and that every shell is right and ready. “Dean understands the electronic features of the setup most of all out of the crew,” said Wayne.

Dean’s son, Derek, is learning all aspects of the electronics as well and is now using his experience to gain his pyrotechnic certification. “Derek has the upper hand on others applying for certification,” added Wayne, “because he already has a few shoots under his belt. He almost has enough to be certified. All he would have to do is take the course and pass the test.”

On the eve of the show, the fireworks are hauled to the firing site and then launched. Most of the fireworks are launched using the wiring and switchboard but many of the smaller shells are still hand fired. Russ Larson trains most of the crew in hand firing. “Hand firing is still done for several reasons,” said Wayne. “It helps to give the crew the whole experience of a fireworks show and it’s fun.”

Wayne added that originally all of the fireworks were hand fired before they moved to the electronic system used today. The launching system on Wayne’s property has evolved drastically, “When we started launching fireworks in the early 90s,” added Wayne, “heavy steal mortar tubes were built to launch the explosives and weighed from 50 pounds to a couple hundred and were driven into the ground.”

Later, light-weight mortar shells were placed onto wooden racks on a trailer for ease of transportation and were eventually switched to aluminum. Now, the crew works with a fully-mobile system of two aluminum trailers with permanent mortar fixtures and several additional aluminum racks which can be placed on site.

Wayne says members of his crew were willing to jump in and help out, especially with the addition of the Tamarack show. “Every person is important,” said Wayne about his crew, describing the work each individual puts in to produce an explosive fireworks display.

“For me, it is very gratifying to see all the boats on the lake; a city in all of the bays.” Wayne concluded. “That is one of the neatest things to see, also knowing that people are out there enjoying the fireworks.”

This article first appeared in the July 12, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.