For a free public firework display that more than rivals big city shows, head to the City of Eldon this Fourth of July. With a little help from their friends, the Eldon Fire Department will mount a huge choreographed fireworks show from the Eldon Air Park.
For a free public firework display that more than rivals big city shows, head to the City of Eldon this Fourth of July. With a little help from their friends, the Eldon Fire Department will mount a huge choreographed fireworks show from the Eldon Air Park. After at least 20 years now of these annual patriotic send-offs, Fire Chief Randy Vernon and crew know a thing or two about putting on a top notch show.
Head out to the park area for free swimming and other fun activities during the day, then make sure you have a good spot picked out to watch the show which will begin at dark — around 9:25-9:30 p.m.
The folks from the largely volunteer fire department have taken their own time to go to school to become licensed so they can help the city celebrate in style.
Sponsored by Citizens Bank, they buy their shells locally from Premier Pyrotechnics, owned by the well-known businessman Matt Sutcliffe of Bear Bottom Resort in Sunrise Beach.
Working with KS95 Radio Station, firefighters send off the commercial-grade firework shells in time to music through an elaborate wiring setup learned through Sutcliffe’s pyrotechnic classes.
While Eldon firefighters have done shows up to 45 minutes in length, they’ve cut back now to around 30 to 35 minutes, a good length of time to entertain and not run too long. This just means they pack more boom and spectacle into a shorter amount of time.
With 13 mortar racks holding shells ranging from three-inch to six-inch, there are a whole lot of booms — around 1,400 to 1,500. Vernon explains that a three-inch shell will go 300 feet in the air and break into one of the awe-inspiring patterns people love with a diameter of 300 feet, such as peony or fan. For a five-inch shell, it would 500 feet in the air with a diameter of 500 feet.
They also have two 600-shot cakes.
In the early years, the firefighters used to hand fire and load, which takes a lot of personnel. Now, they do electric fires using shot boxes, cables and a 50-cue board, allowing the shooter — Larry — to set off each round one or two at a time. The setup enables the choreography to music.
On the Sunday and Monday before July 4, on a Wednesday this year, Vernon, Larry and other firefighters were busily wiring it all together. With the shots wired, Vernon stays by them 24 hours a days as required by federal law, staying at the site in his RV.
Quite a bit of manpower is still required for the show even with the electric shoot. On the night of the show, firefighters will be stationed around the “hot zone” to limit access to the area. Personnel from other area fire departments help out with this duty. Federal law requires a significant radius be fenced off for safety. There is also the shooter, a safety officer and incident commander and a spotter to keep an eye out for possible duds, which have to be retrieved.
By the numbers
13 mortar racks
13 50-shot boxes
3 to 6 inch shells
6 cakes (which shoot off multiple shots in an individual pattern and effects)
2 600-shot cakes
100 feet of height and diameter of air blast per inch of shell
30 to 35 minute show
21 years of experience
July 4 activities in Eldon
7:30 am. 5K Run starts in front of the Public Safety Building 10:30 a.m. Parade
Noon-4 p.m. Free swimming at the Eldon Aquatic Center
There will also be free horseshoes and washers games at Eldon Airpark along with three huge inflatables for kids, starting at 1 p.m. Food and craft vendors will also be open here along with karaoke.
People are welcome to bring portable grills, coolers, blankets and chairs to the air park for the event. They are just asked to clean up after themselves.
Note: The park is closed to through-traffic due to safety reasons. You cannot enter the park from Eldon or Franklin avenues. Parking is recommended on the side of the road along the fence or Business 54 side. Or park in the open field at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Lake Media reporter Mary Pryor contributed to this story.