Pyrotechnic experts see Fourth of July up close and personal

The city of Lebanon enjoyed the 12th annual Star Spangled Celebration at Cheadle Lake Park July 4.

While spectators enjoy fireworks at close range, the Star Spangled Celebration is an event intended to support the large park.

“We started it as a programming activity for the park, to raise money to support the park and maintain beautification of the park,” said Ronn Passmore, finance director for the Lebanon Community Foundation.

Passmore appreciates the close proximity to the fireworks spectators get to have at the park. To allow visitors to be up close to the show, pyrotechnic crew members use firework shells that are no larger than three or four inches.

“If we had a 5-inch shell, you’d have to be another two or three hundred feet back,” Passmore said. “By using the 3-inch shell, we could put the crowd closer and it has the same effect as the 5-inch shell because they’re right there on you.”

The Star Spangled Celebration is sponsored by the City of Lebanon and numerous prominent local businesses to cover the cost of the four hour event, which can total as much as $20,000 to $22,000, Passmore said. Included in that is the budget for the fireworks, which this year was $11,000.

The money raised at the gate from entrance fees is deposited into the park fund for maintenance of the property, he said. He estimates they can park about 700 to 800 vehicles for the show, and guesses there are an average of three to four people per car. So the event will raise about $7,000 to $8,000 to entertain approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people.

Most guests may have noticed the spectacular “wall of fire” hasn’t been used in the show for the last few years. It was the grand finale of the Star Spangled Celebration for the first nine years, but Passmore said there are a few reasons why they don’t do it anymore.

The biggest reason is that it wouldn’t fire the last two years they tried it, he said. It was also very dangerous.

“We had to be really careful,” he said. “Anybody who got out there within 100 feet would be roasted.”

The idea for the wall of fire originated when members on the foundation’s board saw it being displayed at the air show in Hillsboro, Passmore said. They liked its uniqueness, so they asked the Star Spangled fireworks vendor to use it too.

The Lebanon Community Foundation has recently switched vendors to Western Display Fireworks, a family-run operation out of Canby. Passmore said taking the wall of fire out of the show allows for more fireworks, and Western gives a finale that is like a “wall of fireworks.”

Ron Carter, from Sweet Home, has been working for Western for eight years. He originally got involved with setting off firework shows after he started volunteering in the 1980s at the Sweet Home Fire Department, which is responsible for the annual Sportsman’s Holiday fireworks show.

Carter and his son Mitch are both licensed pyro technicians who help deliver and set off shows around the valley every year. This year, Lebanon’s show set off 220 shots, which totaled about 1,200 fireworks. It took the crew several hours to set up for the electronically controlled show.

“Part of the reason we do this show electronically is so that we can synchronize different shots exactly,” said Wes Strubhar, a volunteer at the Sweet Home Fire Department and employee for Western Display. “It makes it worth the extra trouble of wiring everything up.”

To set up for the Star Spangled show, Carter and his crew erected a few hundred mortar tubes and a some preloaded boxes, and then began the task of wiring each shot to the control panel. The control panel contains toggle switches that set off each shot when flipped. It passes electricity through a wire to the designated fuse that blows the shell into the air.

“When it blows up (into the air), it lights the fuse on the ball (the firework),” Strubhar explained. “The ball flies up in the air, and blows up when the fuse burns through.”

Carter said the downside to shooting a fireworks show is that the pyrotechnics crew can’t see it very well because it’s meant to be viewed from several hundred feet away, not directly below. But working the show still has its perks.

“Yes, it’s fun to be the one to light it and hear the boom, essentially blowing things up,” he said.

While it’s a paid gig, setting off fireworks shows is basically a volunteer position, Carter said. They receive a percentage of the profit from the show, but the time involved can be tedious. Employees spend hours setting up the mortars, guarding the fireworks, performing the show, and then cleaning up.

This year, Carter and the other employees—most of whom are members of his family—started setting up for the Star Spangled Celebration around noon on July 4. The show started at 10 p.m., and Carter didn’t get home until 2:30 in the morning.