Kiwanis ‘Super Squibbers’ Prepare July 4 Extravaganza

A suibbing team at work. From left, Ann Hayes, Roger Stutz and Earle Hanson. Photo by Don Casperson
Fireworks Committee Chairman Pat Soran, demonstrating squibbing, checking, and boxing. A box of three-inch shells is in the forground. Photo by Don Casperson
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

What does it take to make a sparkling, rousing fireworks show, the kind that paints the sky with multicolored flowers and makes the crowd cry out in wonder?

It’s not as simple as lighting the tip of a sparkler, but the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos thinks it’s worth it, and for more than 20 years, Kiwanis members have pumped in the necessary work every year to make the Fourth of July show happen.

Here’s how they do it. First, the leaders of the Fireworks Committee design the show and order the fireworks. When the shells arrive, they have to be stored—and then they must be checked frequently to meet federal safety requirements.

Several days before the show, the labor-intense part of the preparation begins. Kiwanis members “squib” each shell, trimming the fuse and attaching an electronic ignition device. This process makes it far less likely that “duds” will slow the show.

This year, on Friday, June 27, 19 Kiwanis members and their friends arrived in Overlook Park at a site out near the lagoons, unloaded piles of shells and squibs, took out their tools, and began what they affectionately call “a sewing circle with explosives.”

Two and a half hours later, they quit for the night, having poured in approximately 50 hours of volunteer time (including just a few moments for travel).

On Saturday, June 28, a crew of 10 arrived at about 9:30 a.m. They set up tables and chairs, laid out their tools, organized circles of “assembly-line workers,” and began working on the remaining shells, cutting off the tips of their fuses, slitting a hole in the remaining fuse, inserting the squib, taping the spliced-in section securely, and tying it off, leaving a long “cord” to attach it to the rail system triggered by a computer. Many shells were squibbed individually. Others were spliced together into systems that would fire together.

By 11:30 a.m., 30 volunteer hours later, the work was done, and the squibbed shells were organized in a way that made them easy to attach to the rails at the firing site.

Both of these “parties” were fun because of the lively conversation, which ranged from college memories to a mini review of the opening night of “Carmen” at the Santa Fe Opera. People really get to know each other when they are working in an “explosive situation,” and it’s true that, many flying fingers “make light work.”

A few people attended both squibbing parties. At the head of the list was Pat Soran, this year’s fireworks chairman (and the chairman or co-chairman for many, many years). Soran was recovering from surgery to his right hand this year, but he was still there, leading and helping. So was super squibber Ann Hayes, his wife.

At the end of the squibbing, participating Kiwanis members knew that stage one was completed. They looked ahead to a 4,000-shell 2014 show that will feature many “basins,” containers of 100 to 250 small shells of many colors, all fired within a few seconds. Soran promised a huge opening three minutes, and a closer of two-minutes at the end that would thrill the audience.

They all knew, however, that there was still a lot of work remaining.

On July 4—a day when many people are relaxing outside around the grill, waiting for the hotdogs to get done—the team will be back in Overlook at about 10 a.m., loading equipment and shells onto a flatbed truck, moving across the park, and unloading them at the firing site.

The most electrically adept (and flexible) members of the group will spend several hours loading and wiring each shell into its appropriate place and linking the system to a master  computer.

If a rain shower threatens, there will be a scramble to cover the entire system with aluminum foil—through which shells will blast at show time.

There will be a break for dinner, and then the committee members will get together at the firing site to watch the winner of the “Best Seat In the House” drawing push just one button at 9:15 p.m. to start the show. If all goes well, shells will fire constantly for the next 30 minutes—just as the designer of the show planned, months before.

Meanwhile, another Kiwanis team, headed by Don Casperson, is facilitating the set-up of vendor and information booths on the field. Thirteen organizations had already signed up and paid for booths by June 25. These organizations ranged from ice cream and food vendors to the LA Ski Club. More were expected to sign up as Fireworks Day approached.

A third Kiwanis team is planning to have people standing at each entrance from 2 p.m. until show time, asking for donations to pay the price (estimated at $16,000 to $20,000) for NEXT year’s shells.

The members of the Gate Committee hope each adult will donate $5. Children 12 and younger are always free. (There will be no one-donation-for-a-whole car reduction in requests this year.) If all goes well, the show is likely to draw 8,000 to 10,000 people, and money will pour in to pay for many shells for 2015.

This year, several local businesses have already made major donations to support the show. Kiwanis would love to receive donations of any size from fireworks supporters who live in White Rock and watch from their backyards.

The co-chairmen of the event, Steve Boerigter and Kristy Ortega, say the 2014 ground show will include Ton-o-Fun bouncy toys from Bernalillo, the Habanero Sky Diving Club (two performances, weather permitting), and music by “The Renegade Mountain Band,” a country music outfit that recently recorded in Nashville. “Outlaw 107.5,” the local country station, will broadcast live. The Los Alamos Community Winds will play between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. And Louise Mendius will sing the “Star Spangled Banner” just before the fireworks show begins.

Want to avoid driving? Atomic City, the local bus line, plans to have runs from Sullivan Field in Los Alamos and the White Rock Visitors Center to the park, starting at about 4 p.m. Atomic City buses also will take people back to Sullivan Field and the White Rock Visitor Center after the festivities are over, saving them from a long wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Kiwanis members, however, expect to be in the park until at least midnight. They will clean up the firing site; load all their equipment onto a trailer; haul it back to the storage site; unload again; and put it all away until 2015.

The Los Alamos County Police Department and Fire Department will also have people in the park until it’s all over. The county’s support helps make the show possible each year—and Kiwanis thanks them for their work.

Ann Hayes, left, is working hard while Kathy Hirons shows off a completed squibbing job. Photo by Eric Schaller
A group photo of the Kiwanis Squibbers. Photo by Greg Kendall
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