When Garry Poe was growing up, he remembers helping his father set up the city’s annual fireworks display.
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Poe said, members of the fire department would dig holes, launch the mortars, and then clean up the fireworks displays.
“That’s how I got started, helping my dad,” he said. Now Poe, an event producer for Kingsbury-based Melrose Pyrotechnics, helps put on elaborate fireworks displays that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“Time has not slipped past us,” Poe said. “We don’t hand-fire like we used to. We have complete control of the show by running the computer. We can use our system to do 100 shots per second. No way you could ever hand-fire anything that remotely looked like that.”
This July Fourth season, Melrose Pyrotechnics, Inc. will be putting on hundreds of fireworks shows all across the Midwest, including in Munster on July 3 in Centennial Park and the Duneland Chamber of Commerce Fireworks display July 2 at Indiana Dunes State Park.
Melrose also regularly does the weekly fireworks shows at Navy Pier and after White Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field. It has about 55 full-time employees, as well as licensed technicians who come in and help launch a display. Each display requires a crew of between four to six people, Poe said.
Typically, a Fourth of July show lasts about 20 minutes and can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per minute, Poe said.
Each fireworks show is individualized based on budget, music selection and location, and the planning process takes months.
“We go through every show individually to make sure it fits their location. You have to see if you have tree lines to contend with, or if you have an open field. You design the shows from the ground up,” he said. “Every show is unique in its own right.”
This April, a team from Melrose went to Vietnam to compete in the 2013 Denang International Fireworks Competition, where they took first place overall. The company is constantly striving to improve their performances, and even has fireworks that are designed exclusively for them, Poe said.
“We try to take things to the next level,” he said. “We want the reds to be a little bit redder, and the gold to hang in the air a little longer. We are always pushing forward.”
For Poe, each fireworks show is a reflection of the event producer’s personality. He still gets butterflies of anticipation in his stomach before every show.
“I can’t sing, and I can’t dance, but when I go out there and set everything up, when I shoot, my personality comes out,” he said. “I like roller coasters, so I shoot that way. A lot of big anticipation, and then over the top -- shoot, shoot, shoot.”
You always leave them wanting more, he said.
“I finish with a big finale and then hope people want more and enjoy what they just saw,” he said.
Fireworks are the one thing that can bring people together, no matter what their background.
“You don‘t find many people who don‘t like to watch fireworks,” he said. “Everyone sits there and enjoys it. For 20 to 25 minutes, no one is fighting, or arguing. If you can calm down the world for a few minutes, you can make it a better night.”