Perham pyrotechnic lights up the skies for the 4th of July
For the last 22 years, Perham business owner Steve Richter has had an explosive pastime. As a certified pyrotechnic shooter, he's been the guy behind the scenes at city fireworks displays.
The first fireworks show Richter helped with was in 1990 at the all school reunion in New York Mills. Since then, he's helped with at least five shows a year, all around the area.
In 1996, the state of Minnesota passed a law requiring that fireworks fuses be lit only by certified technicians. This was when business kicked off for Richter, as fire departments could no longer legally do their own shows.
In an interview on Monday, Richter explained the process of putting on a show. To start, all the fireworks are set up beforehand according to size. This way, the shooter can move up and down the rows of mortars, and mix and match the smaller and bigger fireworks throughout the show.
In the world of fireworks, the bigger the bomb, the higher in the air it flies before exploding. 'Cakes' stay closest to the ground but are packed with a variety of fireworks. Shows around here consist of a lot of three-inch bombs, and some fours, fives and sixes, Richter said.
With a small flare in his hand, Richter, along with other members of the team, works in a rhythm. The team lights a bunch of three-inch shells, mixes in a couple of fours, fives and sixes, throws in a cake or two and continues that rhythm throughout a show.
And then, of course, they explode 100 or so at once for the grand finale.
"Its a lot of malarkey up in the sky for about 20 seconds," Richter explained.
Though electronic boards are used in some cities, shooters around here still do everything manually: "We can do just as much" that way, Richter said.
He emphasized that the shooter has to be ready for anything and everything. He estimates that one out of 300 shells doesn't perform as expected. It's a pretty low percentage, but shooters have to be prepared for duds or shells that explode too early or too close to the ground.
"It doesn't matter how many years of experience (shooters have), stuff happens," Richter said. And they have to be prepared.
Though most shows last less than 20 minutes, the prep time takes six times as long. For Fourth of July shows in Perham and New York Mills, the work begins three hours before dusk, as the traditional holiday baseball games are just beginning.
Richter and some of his helpers (Bert Nelson, Brian Selander and Terrance Nelson) take all the necessary safety precautions and do all the prep work to put on a good show.
Richter said sometimes people want to come and visit the shooters as they're setting up, but this isn't something that should be done - they are dealing with explosives and caution needs to be high.
The shooters watch the weather, check wind direction and pace out where the crowd should stand.
Then, as the game comes to an end and the lights go out on the field, Richter and his crew begin the magical tradition of fireworks.
Richter said the length of the fireworks shows do not change with higher budgets. Instead, the quality of the shells change - meaning there are more of the big ones.
Looking back over the last two decades, Richter said, "I'm hoping this is my last year. That's my intention. It's probably time to turn the door handle and let the young guys do it."
WHERE TO WATCH FIREWORKS THIS YEAR
July 3: New York Mills, Russ Jacobson Field
July 4: Perham, Tuffy Stadium at Krueger Field
July 6: Little McDonald Lake
*In case of rain, shows are rescheduled for the next day.