Charlie Cooperider started preparations Thursday afternoon at the launch site for the city of Delaware’s fireworks show to celebrate U.S. independence from Great Britain.
And while the Delaware firefighter mowed the grass at the open field next to the Delaware Waste Water Treatment Plant on Cherry Street, his own independence from the workforce is on the horizon this month.
The fireworks show concludes the city’s July Fourth celebrations, following the parade and a concert performed by the Central Ohio Symphony at Ohio Wesleyan University.
It’s the “biggest hand-lit fireworks show at least in central Ohio if not the state of Ohio,” Cooperider said.
Cooperider operates the show as the fireworks exhibitor on the payroll of Hamburg Fireworks Display Inc., based in Lancaster. He’s been part of the display for the last 22 years with the last 16 years as the exhibitor.
And this year may be his last as he will retire on July 12. Cooperider concludes 31 years of employment for the city of Delaware with 28 in the fire department.
“[The] jury is still out on whether there will be another year [as fireworks exhibitor],” he said.
The city will look to Hamburg to provide an exhibitor for next year if Cooperider decides to step down.
The fire department was how Cooperider became involved with the fireworks display. The city didn’t have fireworks for one year after the company handling it decided to pull out at the last minute. After the incident, Cooperider and the fire chief at the time decided to get their exhibitor licenses to ensure that fireworks happen on Independence Day.
“It’s not the Fourth of July without fireworks,” he said.
Fireworks are shot from three different locations on the open field. The shells for the opening act of the show are shot the closest to Cherry Street, ignited by a dynamite plunger. The main act, which goes on for about 20-25 minutes, have shells shot from the center of the field with the finale shot from the rear, which takes up to five minutes.
The shells for the fireworks are launched from mortars, or aluminum tubes, after they’re lit either by hand or electronically. Mortars come in varying diameter sizes. Hamburg mortars include sizes of 3, 4, 5 and 8 inches with some grouped together in racks. The eight-inch mortars are six feet tall and are detonated electronically from the rear. Ohio law requires shells shot from at least 6-inch mortars to be lit electronically.
“We have all different kinds of configurations,” Cooperider said.
He gives the workers the opportunity to hand-light the fireworks as the ultimate incentive to help set up the show since the task takes time away from family and friends. Cooperider hand-lights the finale himself.
“Oh yeah,” he said — when asked if that was his favorite part.
But the firefighter has a zero-tolerance for horseplay at the fireworks site. Cooperider said he makes sure that he has eyes on all the workers at all times during the show. Workers also have to be licensed to be allowed on site when the shells arrive.
“By far, safety is the biggest thing,” he said.
Weather is another challenge for the fireworks show. For some mortars, once the shell is inserted, the only way for it to come out is to light them, Cooperider said. Because the shells won’t ignite if exposed to rain for more than a day, a rain date is not an option and the show must go on the Fourth of July with the times pushed up or back if necessary. Severe weather, such as thunderstorms and lightning, would be one of the main reasons to cancel.
“We don’t have a choice,” he said.
Cooperider spent the last 12 years as a fire safety inspector for the department with a high success rate of determining the causes of fires, including arson, said Delaware Fire Chief John Donahue.
“He’s been an true asset to the city of Delaware,” Donahue said.