As the oohhs and aahhs come to an end, and the honking fades, lines of cars begin the slow exodus from their viewing spots around the Harmony Golf Course. Excitement and appreciation for a spectacular fireworks display may linger with the spectators for hours or even days as the Fourth of July finale brings the holiday to an end. Few may think about the relief and satisfaction felt by the men who have been responsible for that impressive show for nearly 50 years: the Harmony Fire Department.
Dan Dornink and Dustin Hanson are just two of the new crew of six firemen who have stepped forward to take on the new system of lighting the annual fireworks display for the city of Harmony. They are joined by Todd Kiehne, Chris Morem, Corey Whalen and Kyle Morem as the department transitions into a fully electronic show, where the men can stand at a safe distance while wirelessly firing over 300 individual fireworks.
Dornink explained that the Harmony Fire Department has been tasked with lighting the fireworks for the Fourth of July celebrations since the early 1970s. Over the years, the display has grown to include close to 100 each of three-inch, four-inch and now five-inch shells.
Those fireworks were hand-lit at close range by firemen dressed in full gear, using road flares taped to sticks to light the fuses. “This method of ignition, as exciting and fun as it may be, is very dangerous and places the firemen at significant risk,” Dornink said.
Not only were there safety risks to consider, but the old method also took significant manpower – requiring nearly every member of the department to be on hand every year to help. Dornink explained that the old method of hand lighting the shells took three teams of five or six guys, running from one group of shells to the next.
“Many of the guys in the department never got to watch the fireworks with their kids,” he pointed out.
In addition to all the men on the ground, Hanson and Dornink made sure to mention Larry Nolan, who served as the department’s licensed pyrotechnic display operator for over 30 years. Dornink has also recently obtained his license, also through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Fire Marshal’s Office.
In 2021, the department began the transition to a safer and technically superior system by purchasing electronic firing equipment. This lowered the manpower needed as well as significantly increased the safety for the firemen. That year, approximately one-third of the show was set off by electronic means.
Following the success of the 2021 electronic firing, Dornink explained the department purchased additional mortar racking and completed the first fully electronic show last year, in 2022. “We are now able to pre-load and wire trailers for the show in the days leading up to the Fourth of July and stand at a safe distance while wirelessly firing over 300 individual fireworks,” he said.
Also, rather than having three teams of five or six men, a volunteer committee of six firemen can effectively handle the fireworks display.
That said, both Dornink and Hanson shared that most of the other firemen still showed up in 2022 to be on location for the firing. Many relaxed in golf carts or on the lawn, supervising from a distance. It seemed they felt a need to be present, spending the last moments of the holiday as they had in previous years – with their fire department colleagues.
“They all still came,” Dornink said. “I think it was the sense of unity they needed.”
The electronic capabilities also allow for a more consistent and well-timed show. Hanson said the fireworks used to last about 45 minutes, but there were many gaps as firemen had to move or reload. Now, he anticipates a shorter, more intense show with very few lags.
Using plans from the fireworks company, the firemen are also able to coordinate and mix shells to create a well-choreographed display. Using three trailers, with crates filled with shells for different phases of the show, Hanson explained that one trailer is reserved just for the finale.
He joked they didn’t even look at the shells they were placing together in previous years, but this year they are taking the time to sort through the specialty shells and plan their fireworks display more intentionally.
Hanson said he is learning more and more each year about how long it takes to light a fuse, when and what button needs to be pushed to set off the next shell and how to tell if each shell safely flared.
The equipment purchased in 2021 was funded through the Firemen’s Relief Association as a means of lowering manpower and increasing safety, Dornink reiterated. This year, the department purchased an additional 10 racks of two-and-a-half-inch tubes and five more racks of four-inch and five-inch tubes to eliminate any hand-fired shells from the show.
These most recent purchases were made possible by a grant from the Harmony Area Community Foundation with supporting funds by the Relief Association.
“We believe that this method not only allows for an increase in safety, but also allows higher quality displays for the thousands of people who attend our celebration every year,” he added.
Dornink and Hanson admitted that they both look forward to the time when the last shot goes off and the oohs and aahhs subside and the honking begins – signifying the completion of another fantastic fireworks display in Harmony.
The fireworks display takes place at dusk on the Fourth of July. It is made possible by donations from the First Southeast Bank, the Harmony Conservation Club, the Harmony Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Harmony and the Firemen’s Relief Association. Hanson also thanked the Harmony Golf Course for allowing the department to set up on the course each year.