Kiwanis 4th Of July Extravaganza: Ready, Set, BOOM!

The Kiwanis Club hosts its annual 4th of July extravaganza Tuesday, July 4 at Overlook Park. Courtesy photo
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

A lot of work goes into preparing for the Los Alamos Kiwanis Fourth of July Festivities in Overlook Park, and this year it seems to be flowing smoothly.

Fireworks Preparations

Fireworks Chairman Pat Soran said in an interview Sunday that the shells had arrived. There are about 4,000 of them, he said, including about 25 “basins”—containers filled with 150 to 300 rockets each that are triggered by a single fuse and keep firing for some time, painting the sky in designs that present a chosen theme.

The shells arrived Wednesday, trucked in by Fireworks Production of Arizona from their base in Chandler. Soran said that he and his grandson, Nathan Hayes-Rich, met the truck and unloaded it. People from the Los Alamos County Parks Department helped move the shells to the Kiwanis storage facility, transporting them on the county’s four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles.

Soran said during the interview that, as in past years, he had already called for volunteers for a “squibbing” party July 1 at the Kiwanis storage shed. Squibbing involves adding electronic fuses to a large number of shells. The process is intended to reduce the number of “duds” by greatly increasing the chance that each shell will fire.

Soran said about 15 people usually coming out to squib, working from about 9 a.m. to noon—or until all the work is done. He said he always reminds his volunteers—and he is reminding them again this year—that they should “bring a chair, water and a hat” as well as sun screen, and, if possible, cutting boards and utility knives.

Once the shells are squibbed, they go back into the shed.

At about 10:30 a.m. July 4, volunteers will arrive and begin moving items of equipment onto a truck so that they can transport them to the firing site in a parking lot near the radio-controlled-car area of the park.

Later in the day, they will move the shells.

Volunteers, including some with cordless drills, will set up the racks that hold mortar tubes, wire up the squibbed shells, and connect them all to a single computer.

At 9:15 p.m., when the sun has gone down and the sky is growing dark, Kiwanis member Louise Mendius will sing the “Star Spangled Banner” for the crowd on the field, and, at a prearranged moment near the end of the song, Soran will push a single button, and the show will start.

Every explosion will follow a plan programmed in days earlier by Kiwanis member Rick Reiss. The shells will continue to fire, filling the sky with light and sound, for approximately 45 minutes.

Vendors on the Field

The fireworks are, literally, the stars of the show—but they aren’t the only activity in progress during the Fourth of July Festivities.

By the time June 25 rolled around, Kiwanis member Don Casperson has been working for many days, lining up booths for the field. He already had firm, paid commitments from: Los Alamos Youth Football (perhaps their gigantic helmet?); from Party-to-Go (glow-in-the-dark necklaces and other magical items); from Daniel’s Cafe (food and ice cream); from de la Creme (Italian sodas); and from Houdini Popcorn.

He also had verbal commitments from Smokin’ Bear BBQ (food); from CB FOX Kids (a first timer?); and from the Republican Party of Los Alamos. At least four more food and drink businesses were “possibles,” and he said he had talked with another five to 10.

“There is always a lot of last-minute maneuvering for vendors,” Casperson said. “I expect there will be more.”

Action at the Gate

There would be no fireworks without donations from the previous year. That’s right. The fireworks are funded entirely from public donations.

Los Alamos County supports the festivities on the Fourth by allowing use of the park; by providing free Police Department and Fire Department assistance; and by scheduling buses serving the park starting at 4 p.m. However, the county does NOT pay for the fireworks.

Once again this year, Kiwanis will be requesting a $5 donation from each teenager or adult coming in the gate. (Children 12 and younger are always free.) That’s because the money collected at the gate is used to buy the shells for the next year. The equation is simple: More donation money, more shells.

Kiwanis Treasurer Cindy Eaton started rounding up volunteers in early June so that she would have enough people to work the gates noon to 9:15 p.m.  July 4.

She said it takes about 24 volunteers to do it, and she had about 21 lined up by June 25. The volunteers work two-hours shifts—and some work four hours before going in to enjoy the show themselves.

Music and Fun on the Field

Steve Boerigter, chairman of the Kiwanis Fourth of July Festivities again this year, already had most of his basic work done by June 25. He said Sim Balkey will provide country and western music on the field again this year. He said “Ton o’ Fun” from Bernalillo will bring bouncy toys for children again this year. (He has asked them to open up by 4 p.m. for business.)

He said the Community Winds will play “American classic band music” starting at 5 p.m. and he noted that Louise Mendius will sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” just at sunset again this year.

“We just hope for beautiful weather and a fine evening,” he said.

And all Kiwanis volunteers hope to have their complex checklist of essential tasks completed before the sun dips below the horizon. It’s simple: Ready, Set, BOOM!