Stillwater News Press

July 5, 2013

VIDEO: Pyrotechnician puts the boom into Boomer Blast

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — The night sky lit up with colors including red, white and blue Thursday night as Boomer Blast’s firework show was the main attraction.

More than six hours earlier, pyrotechnician Kevin Hanna and his team were preparing for the show.

“Regular, consumer fireworks are so boring now,” Hanna said. “There’s a large percussion when these things go off and being underneath them and watching them go off is just really pleasing.”

Like many Americans, Hanna, at one time, was used to fireworks consumers could purchase.

“I used to shoot just the fireworks you got from the fireworks stand and a buddy that I was buying them from asked me if I wanted to get into shooting larger shows and I said sure and that was about 18 years ago and here we are today,” he said.

Hanna took a state certification test and an eight-hour class before he could legally take part. The lessons became ingrained as he spent years setting up shows like the one Thursday.

“The mortars that you see around here are shooting the fireworks out the top of the deal at about 300 mph when it leaves, so you learn real quick to keep your hands and all parts of your body from being out on top of them,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that we do here is electrically fired, so there’s a lot of specifics that go with that, but mainly it’s just keeps shirts on, long pants on and ear protection.”

The preparation for Boomer Blast included a crew of 15 people — Hanna’s friends. The city of Stillwater contracts with Wald, Inc. of Greenwood, Mo., which ships the show to Stillwater where Hanna and crew set it up.

 The group makes an event out of the evening as Hanna caters in a dinner and family and friends await the show. The meal is a welcome treat after the hours in high temperatures.

“We’ve set up hand-fire lines,” Hanna said. “We’re shooting 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-inch shells by hand. We’ve got an entire pit of 8-inch shells that are going to be electrically fired and at the end of the peninsula is our finale strings and those are all wired together and electrically fired.”

The hard work is rewarding, Hanna said. That idea holds especially true this year.

“This is the largest show that we’ve done here,” he said. “The finale has somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 shots going off. There are 700 shots going off in the hand fired show and some electrically fired shots and I think there’s about 200 here, so it’s going to be a really active show.”

Hanna hopes to change things up next year with a possible launch from a floating vessel; an option that provides advantages.

“It’s safer,” Hanna said. “Your fallout zone is all on water so you’re not going to catch anything on fire. It also reflects the light, so it’s a better show for everyone and there’s so much more area for people to get close and get a great view of it.”

Safety is always on Hanna’s mind. He complies with perimeter laws which state a 100 foot perimeter during setup and a show perimeter equal to 100 feet for every inch the diameter of the largest shell. In this case, eight inches equals 800 feet.

The OBU grad and Shawnee resident, a diehard Oklahoma State University fan, said he’s heard of mishaps that have cost others their lives in the field.

“Praise the Lord, we haven’t even had any near misses or things like that,” he said. “We’ve been real fortunate and we have a real careful crew. It speaks to that.”

Stillwater residents and visitors showed their appreciation following the finale which literally boomed and turned night to day. A loud roar of approval came from all sides of the lake.

One woman complimented Hanna as he came back from the peninsula.

“We’ve had nothing but good comments as we leave,” he said.