While people in nearby parks relaxed, played games or prepared picnic meals, a half-dozen individuals were hard at work wiring and loading the shells for the fireworks show that was part of the July 4 festival at Cornerstone and Belleview parks.
The main platform for the show was a 40-foot flatbed trailer. The crew had set up the firing tubes on the trailer and, on July 4, they were following the script as they connected one end of a pair of wires to each shell and the other ends to a specified terminal on the bank of terminals mounted vertically on the side of the trailer.
“Each tube has a number and the script tells the crew what shell to load into the tube and what terminal to wire it to,” said Les Naok, a retired pyrotechnician helping with setup. “All the shell terminals are connected to one of two control boards. When time comes for the show, the script sets the order and which switches to flip to set off the proper fireworks for that portion of the show.”
He noted that, in addition to the tubes, there are a number of shot boxes that are part of the show.
“Each shot box contains 100 shells,” Naok said. “The shells are timed to go off all at once or to go off in sequence. Some of the shot boxes are wired with one of the larger shells so, as the shot box goes off, so does the larger shell if fired too in order to provide added fun to the show.”
He said the schedule called for about 2,500 shells to be set off for the July 4 fireworks show. The individual shells ranged from three inches to five inches in diameter.
Each shell is shaped like an ice cream cone. The cone area is the explosive to push the shell about 100 feet up in the air. The fuse continues to burn and, at the top of the arc, the shell explodes to provide the displays of various colors in a variety of shapes.
Naok, an Englewood resident, has been working on the local fireworks show since he helped put on the fireworks show in 1966 that fired the shells out over the lake at Centennial Park.
“Back then, everything was loaded by hand and the fuses were lit by hand, so it was a lot harder to put on a show. We took precautions like storing all the shells in metal garbage cans and making sure all the sparks were out before we loaded the next shell into the tubes that were mounted in the ground,” he said. “But those shows were less exact and more dangerous. Today’s shows are electronically fired. The timing can be more precise and putting on a show is a lot less dangerous.”
Organizers for the July 4 event contract with Western Entertainment, a company based in Oklahoma to put on the fireworks display. The company then contracts with the team of local pyrotechnicians to prepare and fire off the show. Naok said all the crew members live in the Englewood or Littleton area and most of them only do the one show a year.
“The crew spends a lot of hours on this show,” Naok said. “The team has to spend a number of hours the day before the show loading all the equipment and material on the truck. The day of the show, it takes hours to wire up and load all the shells. Then, the day after, it is cleanup and then returning all the equipment to the warehouse. It’s a lot of work but it is also fun to be able to set of all these fireworks and light up the skies.”