Putting the safety in celebration | VailDaily.com

Putting the safety in celebration

J.K. Perry
J.K. Perry/Vail DailyLt. Kris Jorgensen sits on a fire pump as he and several other members of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District wait for any fires that might spark up during the Eagle fireworks show on Tuesday.

EAGLE – Crawling on hands and knees, firefighters manually lit the fireworks with glowing red flares. The concussion of fireworks blasting all around is loud, exciting and smoky ” basically controlled mass confusion.

“It’s fun and it gets your adrenaline going especially when you’re down there and you can hear the crowd roaring,” said Capt. Robert Baron of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District. “Sparks rain down on you and there are little grass fires going. It’s pretty cool.”

Most people seemed awestruck by the fireworks ” a joint collaboration of Eagle, Gypsum and Eagle County ” blasting over the sky Tuesday night at the Eagle County Fairgrounds. The best ever, some called it; and as good or better than Avon’s display the night before.

What most people might not realize is the behind-the-scenes work firefighters and other emergency personnel must do to pull off a $26,000 fireworks show and still maintain safety.

“It’s business as usual in the county, plus this,” said Chief Jon Asper of Greater Eagle. “You can’t do this by yourself ” those days are over.”

The process began well in advance as the grass beneath the aerial display was mowed and wetted down for several hours to prevent fires. The firefighters launching the fireworks began setting up mortars, fuses and wiring at 7 a.m. Tuesday, not finishing until 12:30 the following morning.

About 50 emergency personnel from several agencies including Greater Eagle gathered hours before the fireworks to get their assignments and eat pizza in preparation for a long night. Some protected the crowd from potential grass fires, others watched for signs of flame in the area caused by fireworks and still others were monitoring activity in the rest of the county.

Asper handed out commands by radio while he sat in the county’s command post trailer, which is outfitted with computers, satellite phone and Internet, and a bevy of other emergency equipment.

Police were out to prevent people from setting off their own fireworks, now illegal because of dry conditions that might lead to fires. Fire trucks were positioned near the launch site in case of a mishap. The OK was given for launch.

“Command to launch,” Asper said. “You have permission to fire at will.”

Minutes later, the firefighters ” trained by Western Enterprises fireworks, background checked by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and licensed by the state ” ignited the fireworks, staying low as if under a helicopter’s rotating blades. They light the fuse, get down, wait and get back up to light the next fuse.

The first shells rocketed into the sky, bursting open to the delight of a cheering crowd. The display continued, interrupted only by several shells that refused to fire. The cadence crescendoed in a final bevy of bangs, booms and brightly colored blossoms ignited electronically.

“Everything went off without a hitch,” Baron said.

There were no fires, but some unexploded shells detonated in the sky as the crowd left the fairgrounds.

Firefighters combed the grass below the display for signs of embers that might have fallen from the sky. They planned to double check the grass again in the morning.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado

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