Lyle firefighters continue July 4 tradition

Published 7:08 am Monday, June 28, 2010

LYLE — Just before the first shell of the Lyle Fourth of July Celebration’s fireworks show issued into the night sky, one of the Lyle firefighters called out to the rest.

“This is the one we get to watch,” he said. Seconds later the sky filled with brightly colored streamers of fire. The show was under way.

Lyle certainly is not the only town to enjoy a fireworks show over the next week. Communities all over the United States will follow this example, but not all will take on the task of putting on the show themselves. Many will hire specialists to come in and fire the show.

The Lyle Fire Department is an example of a community firing its own. And while the shells arc and explode overhead, the firefighters don’t get much time to watch the fruits of their labor. That’s saved for the end when they, like the spectators lined along gravel roads stretching out of Lyle, can sit back and watch the grand finale.

“People seem to be pretty happy with it,” Les Frank said, speaking to the usually high number of people the show draws. “It seems like there are thousands of tail-lights leaving town.”

Lyle has been lighting its own fireworks for many, many years now, but the fire department took it over from the Lion’s club somewhere around the 1970s or 1980s. Ever since they’ve been overseeing the money raised for the show, ordering, organizing, firing and cleaning up.

Money for the event comes from a couple locations. Charitable gambling money is donated from American Legion Post #105 to the celebration fund, and in turn some of that money goes to the fireworks show. Added to that, the department holds two fund-raisers in the spring: a pancake breakfast and spaghetti dinner/auction.

Then the work of ordering begins.

The Lyle Fire Department has had an ongoing and successful relationship with Flashing Thunder out of Mitchell, Iowa. They give Flashing Thunder a dollar amount and kind of what they are looking for in terms of shells, and Flashing Thunder tries to meet that criteria.

“We’re trying to get the best balance,” Frank said. “We’ve been buying from these people for 25 years.”

Next comes the planning for the show, which the department tries to keep at around 30 minutes.

The actual shoot is almost like an orchestrated performance with the firefighters planning their moves up to the actual shoot — and for good reason. There is a lot going on during a relatively short period of time.

There are firefighters that do the loading, followed by the lighters and those firefighters that clean the tube to extinguish any remaining embers. Added on top of that, someone has to keep track of what shells are loaded where and what shells have fired.

And of course it all has to be done safely, which isn’t easy considering that these shells are wrapped by hand. Some shells fire almost immediately after being lit, others take longer and still others won’t fire at all.

That’s not counting shells that explode at unplanned times.

“We’ve had some blow up in the tube,” Frank said with a laugh. “It’s a show stopper for a couple minutes while we get reorganized.”

This year’s show included 18 complete volleys and nearly 300 shells, not counting the grand finale. And while the firefighters may not get to enjoy the show like the spectators, they do get their thrills.

“I like it, because when they go off and the ground shakes, you feel in your feet and in your chest,” Frank said.

Sunday night’s show went off without a hitch. The show moved steadily to the grand finale, which included the addition this year of two, big eight-inch shells.

And by its end, the show brought its reward — the cheers and applause of all those people lining up on those dirt roads, just wanting to see a good show.