MEEKER I The night before this year’s annual fireworks show, the Herald Times was on-scene at the Meeker Firehouse to observe certified pyro-technicians Zack Allen and Rich Merriam as they tediously wired the electronically-fired 396-shell spectacle, which was about 100 more shells than last year.
Fire Chief Marshall Cook recently told the Herald Times, “I would like to have an article done on the fireworks, mainly because of the level of commitment and effort that some of our guys go into to put the thing together and present it to the community. I think oftentimes that the community doesn’t have a good grasp, or just take a moment to understand, how much work and effort goes into it.”
That commitment was evident in Allen and Merriam as they stated they each had 50 hours invested in preparing the show, a long process that actually begins in January. There are a few others who also lend a hand as they are able.
Most of the show is launched from two flatbed trailers: the main show trailer and the finale trailer. Each trailer consists of several “bunks,” each of which is a collection of three, five, six and eight-inch diameter tubes. Other bunks with one to three-inch tubes are placed directly on the ground for smaller shells. One shell is loaded into each tube and then all are wired together. It takes a little less than five minutes to fire all the shells in a bunk.
The larger 10-inch and 12-inch steel tubes are buried in the pit. A 12-inch shell weighs about 40 pounds and costs $600. One such 12-inch shell, called the “Spider Web,” was an especially spectacular one right at the end of the show. It went up about 1,200 feet and its “finger display” was some 1,000 feet in diameter.
Another unique shell was the eight-inch “Salute.” A Salute shell is one that goes up and makes a big BOOM! The eight-inch is the biggest Salute shell made and is especially loud. “It’s a window rattler,” Allen said.
Up until three years ago, the manual method was used to ignite each shell. Now it’s all done electrically using an “electronic match” for each shell. This enables the technicians to string wires from the shells to the control box 200 feet away.
“This way is more work ahead of time, but it’s way safer,” Allen said. He has been doing the show for 15 years, so he remembers the old manual days. “We would run up, load them in the tubes, light them, load again, (and so on),” he said. Merriam has also been involved for several years.
Special care is taken in transporting the show up to the site in the cemetery. The trailers are tarped and given a police escort. “We’re going to end up with three trailers, because we have some extra ground stuff on one of them,” Merriam said. “We have to set the trailers, level them and then get them ready. We’ll have another 50 shells to tie in as well.”
The technicians then stayed there on guard to prevent anyone from coming near. Liability issues prevent anyone else being on site.
The work is not over when the last shell is fired, however.
“It takes a good four or five hours to clean up the mess the next day,” Allen said. “Lately, the livestock judging team has helped us with the cleanup.”
Allen and Merriam both voiced concern about donations. The cost of this year’s show was $7,000, which demanded several months of solicitation. Some who promised donations have not yet delivered them, although several have come through.
“The Rec District gave us $1,000, the city donates $1,500, the county $1,000, Westlands $500, Elk Creek $1,000, but we (the fire distinct) pay(s) more than anyone else,” Allen said. “As we always add to our thank you in the newspaper each year, ‘Donations are always gladly welcomed and appreciated; please stop by the firehouse and drop your donation off at the front desk.’ But nobody ever does.”
Through it all, however, Allen and Merriam voiced their enjoyment.
“It’s fun; there’s nothing like being close to this kind of stuff,” Merriam said, followed by Allen’s enthusiasm.
“It’s the adrenaline rush; that’s what keeps us going,” Allen said. “When it’s over, we’re whooping and hollering like little kids.”