First shot. Dwaine Millsaps lights a “cake” to start the show Thursday. Dewayne Roberts and Brooke Millsaps are ready to move into position.
Grand finale. Several explosives detonate at once near the end of the show.
Fire in the hole. Ryan Millsaps backs up after igniting a fuse.
Dwaine Millsaps believes most people cannot truly appreciate what goes into a firework show.
But, that’s okay.
Millsaps and his crew — which includes three children, Scott “Humpty Dumpty” Loving and Dewayne Roberts — from Liberty Pyrotechnics in New Blaine have handled the show at Booneville for several years.
The work actually starts months in advance when the explosives are ordered, and there is equipment preparation that occurs before arriving at the site. There is also licensing to acquire in order to shoot the Class B, or 2.5- and 3-inch size fireworks seen in municipal shows.
On show day, the crew gets started by staging the shooting tubes — long hard plastic tubes that contain a hole for the fuse which, when lit, is propelled upwards of 200 feet into the air for a colorful and or sound display — into rows to arrange the order of the show.
Thursday’s setup began at about 5 p.m. The show started shortly after 9.
Because the fireworks are so close together, each fuse is covered with a sheath so that sparks from one explosive to not accidentally ignite multiple explosions, creating a safety and or potential fire hazard.
Thursday’s show in Booneville also featured some new devices for the Liberty crew, but that’s perfectly okay.
“We’re not afraid to light anything,” said Roberts, who at 6’ 4” towers over his “little brother” Dwaine Millsaps by almost a foot, who he has worked with for about 12 years.
But make no mistake, Dwaine Millsaps says, safety for a “shooter” as they are called, is paramount. Roberts is the safety coordinator for the crew.
“He’ll give a little safety speech before we shoot. He always does. The key is if you’ve got that loaded and you’re going to shoot you don’t come up here and shoot,” says Dwaine Millsaps looking into the tube.
“You never put your body over these tubes,” said Roberts. “When they go off, it is just the way it sounds. If that thing hits anything while it’s lifting off, you know the results.”
License instructors have a unique way to drive home that point.
“What they’re doing at school now is they’re taking whole process chickens and sit one right here,” said Dwaine Millsaps. “It’s teaching people what it will do to you head. They’ll do the same thing with a watermelon.
“The fireworks school preaches safety, and we do too.”
Chris Millsaps said he knows first hand what can happen because before joining the family business, as an EMT he worked an accident that claimed three lives.
“There’s a right way to do this.”
Chris Millsaps didn’t shoot Thursday’s show because his sister, Brooke, home from the U.S. Army and having recently obtained her license, Thursday was her first show. Since each shooter is another person in the firing area and because each has a flare, shooter count is limited to minimize danger.
Asked by her brother afterward, Brooke Millsaps said she was “kind of scared at first,” but she loved it.
After the setup was complete, the safety talk given and the green light called in to start the show, Ryan Millsaps, a police officer in Ola and the youngest of the Millsaps, set off a few purchased at a local fireworks tent as kind of a joke.
Then Dwaine Millsaps lit a “cake,” to really get it started.
From there the shooters work, armed with road flares for ignition, start at either end of a row of tubes and, on Dwayne Millsaps’ instructions fire separately, in unison, or two and three at a time.
Roughly a half hour later all the shooters meet in the middle for the “grand finale,” the multiple shot spectacle that generally elicits applause.
The explosives come equipped for electronic shooting, but Dwayne Millsaps isn’t keen on setting off a show via computer. Besides, where’s the fun in that?
It’s also another safety thing. Dwaine Millsaps spends the entire show verifying every lit explosive takes off.
“With an electronic show you can’t do that. You may not know you have a dud until you walk up on it,” he said. “Those things can go off 30 minutes later.”
Afterward, while residents are leaving for their homes, or topping off their night with a milkshake, Dwaine Millsaps and his crew, caked in fallout, are busy raking the largest of the debris for disposal.
The crew got home about 11:30, Dwaine Millsaps said.
Given that July Fourth, is July Fourth everywhere, there are not as many opportunities to light up the sky as Dwayne Millsaps would like.
“There’s not that many shows. In a rural county a lot of the fire departments do it. We’d love to have more, but we can’t shoot but one a night,” said Dwaine Millsaps.