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Behind the boom

Alex Doty • Jun 30, 2016 at 12:00 PM

In a few short days, residents and visitors of Grand Haven will be able to witness a fireworks display high above Dewey Hill and the waterfront.

While people make their July 4 viewing plans for the annual show, event organizers are also preparing to get this weekend’s pyrotechnic display off the ground.

“I have a checklist that I go off every year,” said Roger Jonas, a Ferrysburg resident who helps coordinate the Grand Haven fireworks show. “My biggest fear is something that was under my watch wasn’t taken care of.”

While it all begins months ahead to work through song sets and dealing with fireworks contracts, the heavy lifting takes place over the next few days.

“It won’t start to pick up until the day before,” Jonas said. “I call this my lull period.”

Jonas said he will be on Dewey Hill for most of the day Monday to answer any questions or connect people to the right official if issues come up.

“If there’s a problem, I’m the one to address it,” he said. “And I like that role.”

Wolverine Fireworks Display Inc. of Kawkawlin is supplying the explosives for this year’s show. The scripted display will feature a variety of fireworks types, all coordinated with music, at a cost of $23,000.

“There’s a lot to get ready the day of,” Jonas said. “They continue setting up shells the day of — and, by 5-6 p.m., everything is ready to go.”

While the fireworks provider is busy getting things ready to ignite, local firefighters are making sure the display doesn’t venture beyond the sky. Jonas said Grand Haven firefighters with a pumper truck and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department boat are used to wet down the hill to prevent any fires. The U.S. Coast Guard is also involved in making sure the show runs smooth by closing the channel in front of Dewey Hill.

“We completely shut the channel down at a quarter to 10,” Jonas said. “We have to have the channel totally clear for 10 minutes before we can shoot.”

If a boat passes through during this 10-minute window, Jonas said the clock resets.

“Most boaters understand (the rules),” he said.

Ultimately, however, the fire marshal has the last word, Jonas said. 

“The fire marshal has to give their last word if the show can go on or not,” he said. “The only thing that would delay fireworks are high winds.”

Once everything is given the all-clear, Jonas said the show can begin.

“We have such a fantastic venue, and it’s really hard to duplicate that anywhere else,” Jonas said. “If you can’t feel them and smell the gunpowder, you’re not close enough.”

In spite of all the effort that goes into putting on the annual display, the end result is also enjoyed by those — like Jonas — who work to make the show happen.

“It is such a pleasure because we all understand what the end result will be,” he said. 

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