RACINE — One day a year, it’s OK for a section of North Beach to be covered in explosives: the Fourth of July.
Two box trucks full of fireworks and equipment are needed for Racine’s 45-minute display, orchestrated by Melrose Pyrotechnics. Ed Haase has been in charge of Racine’s show for 13 years, but he has been launching fireworks professionally for about 25.
That experience, Haase said, plays into why he’s never experienced a major accident.
The first stacks were set up on Tuesday evening, but they weren’t loaded with explosives until the following afternoon, hours before the show began. The stacks, comprised of plastic launching tubes and wooden racks, were set up on a reef breaker along the Racine Yacht Club and on the south end of North Beach, hundreds of feet away from the nearest bystanders.
“They all have to be nailed together, front and back,” Haase explained, “because they’re going to rock ‘n’ roll a little bit as the shells are going off.”
The eight-man crew returned at 6 a.m. the next morning. The next several hours were spent connecting wires back to the control board from which Haase and 35-year-old Adam Novak of West Allis control the show.
“There’s an electrical current that goes from the panel as soon as we flip the switch that leads through the cables that ignites what we call an ‘e-match,’ an electronic match, that ignites the shell and sends it up in the air,” Novak said.
You have free articles remaining.
After everything is wired, Novak and Haase practice their cues for a couple hours to make sure every switch is flipped at the right moment.
“We never want to have any dead air,” Haase said.
Although every firework launches the same way — a switch being flipped — they have different personalities once airborne. Some are simpler, like the salutes that make a loud bang. Others are more complex, like the multi-blast Roman candles.
“Instead of one shot per tube, you get like six of them,” Casey Metz, another part-timer, said.
“The biggest thing is following the schematics so that the show goes off like it was designed to do,” Novak added.
Several members of the Melrose crew complimented how they are treated by the City of Racine, the police department and Fourth Fest. They receive some complimentary food, two Bobcat carts to transport materials and assistance in keeping the area clear of pedestrians. Anything that saves them time during the day is appreciated, because some of them don’t get home until after 3 a.m. on Thursday.
Haase, who is from South Milwaukee and works as an engineer, started working as a fireworks technician while in college, back when there were fewer precautions and technologies keeping technicians safe. Nowadays, the electrical cues and required safe distances protect employees and awestruck viewers alike.
“There’s no more hand fires, there’s no flares, none of that stuff anymore,” Haase said, “which doesn’t make it quite as fun, but it’s still pretty cool.”