Bam! Bang! Boom!

Published 6:32 pm Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sitting by the corner of the fence of Albert Lea’s skate park, Jeff Jahnke, Dale Ward and Cindy Ward saw one of the thrills of their lives Friday night.

As boats lined Fountain Lake and people sat awaiting the annual fireworks show around 10 p.m., these three were busy making sure everything was ready to go.

As the operators of Albert Lea’s fireworks show, Jahnke & the Wards — from Melrose Pyrotechnic of Clear Lake near St. Cloud — were ready for a front-row seat to the display.

Email newsletter signup

For the past six years, Jahnke has been setting off the fireworks in Albert Lea.

He said he got started doing big fireworks shows about seven years ago when a man came up to him and asked him if he wanted to help shoot fireworks.

Jahnke said he would and has since gained his license to do so.

“It’s work, but sitting here close to them is a thrill,” he said.

The group started setting up the racks for the fireworks late Thursday afternoon and then worked almost all day Friday prior to the show to wire up the fireworks, test them and make sure everything was OK. It’s a process that after a while gets tedious and time consuming, he said.

“It takes a little bit of time to figure it out,” Jahnke said. “But you still find new ways to set it up and make it better.

“It looks like a lot of wires and a lot of mess, but everything’s there for a reason.”

After everything is wired up near the edge of the land near City Beach, the group runs a cable back to the corner of the skate park, waits until it’s dark and then sits and pushes buttons on the cable box that release the different sets of fireworks.

Jahnke said it was in the works to shoot off more than 1,000 shells of differing sizes during Friday’s show, which he estimated would last about 20 to 25 minutes.

There were shells ranging in size from 1 inch to 4 inches wide that produced colors of all types in different designs.

Children showed delight during the different designs, and boat drivers even honked their horns and clapped after they viewed something they liked. It was clear people enjoyed the display.

Jahnke said though he and his co-workers never get to have a normal Fourth of July like everybody else with barbecues and get-togethers, he’s never disappointed doing his job.

“Just to watch the show and be right up front, it’s always a thrill,” he said. “I don’t mind giving up the Fourth for this. It’s a lot of fun.”

And of course setting off the finale is the most enjoyable part of all, Jahnke said.

“It’s just phenomenal,” he said.

Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake gives the display a great effect with all the boats and reflections into the water, he said.

This year, KCPI, the Breeze radio station on FM 94.9, also got involved playing patriotic music synchronized to the display. And before the show began, the Albert Lea Community Band warmed up the crowd at Fountain Lake Park, which had the largest crowd of watchers of any spot in Albert Lea. It is right across the lake from City Beach.

Jahnke said the three workers get a little bit of the fallout from the shells, but they’ve never been injured, he said.

The worst part of the job is, of course, the cleanup afterward.

Read about the Third of July Parade.