Updated Thu, Jun 19, 2014 1:18 pm
Every 4th of July, Logan residents enjoy fireworks, thanks to the collaboration of donors, volunteers and Kernen family traditions.
The Kernen family has helped with the setup and operation of fireworks for the community ever since attorney Will Kernen came to town in 1979.
This July will be Will’s 35th year helping with the fireworks. Coincidentally, his birthday falls on July 4.
“He puts in a lot of time and effort,” Kasey Kernen said, noting that to his father, it is important that Logan has fireworks.
This year’s fireworks display is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. July 4 at the Hocking County Fairgrounds, dependent on good weather. In the event of rain, the display would move to the next night at 10 p.m. Inclement weather the second night would once again move the display to the next night at 10 p.m.
“We try not to delay,” said Kasey, the only licensed pyrotechnic exhibitor in the volunteer group, and, as far as he knows, in Hocking County. Once the lineup of metal tubes are filled with fireworks, operators want to get them in the air. Setup spans two full days.
On July 2, volunteers pick up a rental truck containing equipment from Hamburg Fireworks Display, Inc. (HFD), a fireworks factory outlet in Lancaster. On the morning of July 3, volunteers start and work all day to set up the racks of tubes that will hold the fireworks.
On July 4, HFD delivers the fireworks themselves to the fairgrounds. Volunteers then spend all day preparing them for the show.
As the licensed pyrotechnic exhibitor, Kasey is required to be on-site any time fireworks are on the premises.
For the Kernens, of Rockbridge, two traditions are inevitable each year. One: Will gets to light the grand finale, as a birthday gift. Two: A newcomer to the volunteer group gets to light the first firework, a “warning shot” five minutes before the display to alert people that the show will soon start.
That first lighting can be scary. “Even though you expect it to be loud, you still jump,” Loni Marie, Kasey’s wife, said.
This year’s group of volunteers is 10 people strong. Kasey’s wife, two brothers, one sister and her husband, a nephew, his father and two family friends will pitch in to help.
“It’s just something that we’ve all done and all continue to do,” Kasey said.
Kasey has worked as the licensed pyrotechnic exhibitor for seven years, since he turned 21. Exhibitors must be 21 or older. The process includes a one-day course covering safety, procedure and any changes to the fireworks laws or fire code.
Initially, applicants must pass a test to become certified for indoor and outdoor displays. The test is retaken every five years or any time the state fireworks laws see a significant change.
Every other volunteer took training to be licensed as pyrotechnic assistants. Every year, the assistants must take the same one-day course as the exhibitor. First-time assistants undergo background checks and fingerprinting. Assistants must be 18 or older.
This year, the display will include 742 shells, from three to six inches in diameter. These fireworks differ from the commercial rockets found in stores. The shells resemble plant bulbs, made of plastic casing that holds together the gunpowder and other materials that create colors. One ingredient, for example, is phosphorous, which creates white light.
Volunteers must first stake down racks of metal tubes to the ground. Each tube will hold a shell, or firework. Each clustered network of racks composes a bay, with every bay holding 45 shells. Cable runs from a bay to a control box.
Maintaining a safe distance from the fireworks, operators flip a switch, sending out an electrical signal that lights a firework. Half of the show runs on electrically lit fireworks.
Some of the fireworks are hand-fired by using a road flare tied to a stick to light the wick. “That’s kind of one of the more fun things that we do,” Kasey said.
For the opening and grand finale, whole racks are strung together so that many fireworks ignite in rapid succession.
The fireworks display has figured prominently into Kasey’s life. “I was born and raised helping out down there,” he said.
He and Loni Marie were married last year, just two days after the festivities. “Setup on the 3rd, light on the 4th, cleanup on the 5th, [married] on the 6th. Just a little stressful,” Loni Marie said.
One consolation: Hamburg donated sparklers for their wedding.
Stress is an inevitable part of each year’s undertaking. Many volunteers take off time from work to help at the fairgrounds. This year, Kasey took his vacation the week of the 4th, to be available for the fireworks preparation and to celebrate the couple’s first anniversary.
Everyone helping with the fireworks volunteers their time. The group is looking for more volunteers.
At times in the past, those attending the show had to pay an entrance fee to help cover costs. These days, access is free, thanks to the sponsorship of The Citizens Bank of Logan, whose donations pay for fireworks, equipment rental and use of the fairgrounds.
“It’s a great thing for the bank to do,” Kasey said. He noted that many local shows across the country are losing funding.
The Logan Fire Department keeps a fire truck on the scene, and a fire marshal supervises. Members of the Logan Police Department also keep an eye on things, driving to the fairgrounds the night of the 3rd to check on the equipment. Fairgrounds staff make sure grass is mowed in advance. On the 4th, dogs are moved inside the Hocking County Dog Shelter for the night to be protected from loud noises and harm.
The State of Ohio has set regulations on the distance that must be kept between fireworks and a crowd. Volunteers in Logan double that distance, staying within safety standards. They post extra spotters to watch the sky for fireworks that fail to light.
The fireworks operators ask, for safety’s sake, that spectators not cross the yellow caution tape at the fairgrounds.
Kasey is grateful for everyone’s participation, and he appreciates the location. He loves the fact that people may setup their own barbecues and watch from their porches throughout the city.