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Published: Tuesday, 7/3/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Wauseon firefighters to revive holiday show

BY JESSICA SHOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON — Wauseon is looking to get more bang for less buck on the Fourth of July this year, when the community plans to set off fireworks for the first time since budget constraints forced their cancellation two years ago.

While neighboring towns have remained unable to afford fireworks or attempted to support them through citizen-led fund-raisers, Wauseon's fire department has teamed up with Legendary Entertainment to save money and train firefighters to revive the holiday tradition themselves.

The fire department views the fireworks show as its way to give back to the community and has volunteered to cover the display's $15,000 cost with money that would otherwise pay for new equipment or other programs, said Kevin Nelson, the department's treasurer. The department held a chicken barbecue as a fund-raiser June 9, but more than 80 percent of the funding will come from the fire budget.

This arrangement, a response to local desire to revive the fireworks, was conceived in discussions between Wauseon Mayor Doug Shaw and firefighters soon after Mayor Shaw assumed office in January.

"We were thinking outside the box as to how we could do the show for less than we'd done it previously," explained Mayor Shaw, who estimated that Fourth of July fireworks cost the city $16,000 in past years.

He said they floated no other alternatives, noting that the arrangement seemed natural because the fire department had long assisted with the fireworks.

For their part, firefighters have eagerly stepped up to receive training in pyrotechnics, allowing them to assume a greater role in the fireworks display. Phil Kessler, one of the firefighters who volunteered to train, described the experience as similar to an internship. Supervised by technicians from central Ohio-based Legendary Entertainment, the Wauseon trainees arrived at 8 a.m. on practice days and worked until dusk learning to wire and assemble equipment, load explosives tubes, and set off the fireworks.

While no specific amount of training is required, Mr. Kessler estimated he underwent 24 to 30 hours of practice. Upon completing the training, the firefighters received certification to purchase and use fireworks themselves. While a technician from Legendary Entertainment will remain on hand to supervise this year's event, the firefighters expect to produce the show independently next year.

"At first, it's a lot of long days out in the heat," Mr. Kessler said. "But you get more comfortable, and when you see the crowd and hear their cheers, it's great."

Mr. Kessler and others involved in training and planning have no doubt that the fireworks in Wauseon will receive a similarly enthusiastic reception. Wauseon's Fourth of July festivities have traditionally drawn a crowd to enjoy the nighttime fireworks along with an afternoon of concerts, children's activities, and food. The community, Mayor Shaw said, was devastated when they were discontinued. A scaled-down version of the celebrations, aimed mainly at children, continued without the fireworks, but a void remained — one they hope to fill this year.

"This is really something the community has looked forward to in the past. That's what people kept telling us," said Mr. Nelson, who facilitated the training arrangement. "It's an American pastime. Fireworks, that's the Fourth."

Events are scheduled to begin at Dorothy Biddle Park Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., with the fireworks scheduled to begin at dusk or about 10 p.m. Children's bounce-house type inflatables are to be open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the Haas Door baseball field.

A home run derby on Fifth Third Field is to begin at 6 p.m., a basketball free-throw contest at 7, and a closest-to-the-pin golf contest at 8, with prizes awarded in four competitive divisions for each event. Disc jockey Local Sounds (Nune Molina) will begin playing music at 8.

Food and drink will be available for purchase at the Biddle Park concessions stands, and a large tent will be set up with picnic tables.

Contact Jessica Shor at: jshor@theblade.com or 419-724-6516.



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