Each Fourth of July, thousands of area residents gather for the annual Blast on the Bridge at Geist fireworks celebration. Some watch the aerial display aboard boats or while sitting on the marina bridge, others from the decks of shoreline homes, still others from favorite viewing spots surrounding the lake. But, I wonder how many celebrants give consideration to the “who” and the “how” behind this much-anticipated event?
Meet Marty Miller, Geist resident and owner of Mad Bomber Fireworks Productions. “I’m the kid who never grew up – that’s what my wife says,“ smiled Miller whose father launched Mad Bomber in 1982. “I started working there when I was 12 years old. You get to be a kid forever, and there’s nothing better than putting on a good show.”
I caught up with Miller and employee J.R. Brooks in the midst of a three-hour set up of a 15-minute show for a church celebration in Lebanon, Indiana. Miller explained that the secret sauce of a great fireworks display is variety and timing. For the Lebanon show, a combination of low-level effects and larger aerial shells were used, alternating between the two for pacing and to limit “dead sky” time. Shells were launched to a height of 150 feet or so using two methods: by hand with a highway safety-style flare, and with a hand-held electronic controller hard wired to the launch boxes. “The controller unit allows us to shoot as many as 400 shells. You get a lot of them in the air with this system,” said Miller.
In contrast, the Geist Blast show requires four employees working about 50 hours to set up the 45-minute show. “Geist is one of our more unique shows. We have four barges we set up and chain together. Everything is shot from those barges,” explained Miller. Once the barges are in the water, aligned properly, and pushed into place, organizers must then ensure that pleasure boats (and the people on them) are set back at a safe distance. Wind direction determines if the barges are nearer the dam or the bridge. “Depending on how the wind goes is how we set it up. We want the debris to land where we want it to land,” Miller noted.
Blast is an all-electronic launch requiring hours of wiring and testing. “It takes a long time because once you plug it in, you have to make sure you have continuity, and make sure the shooting cues are when you want them,” said Miller. The 3,500 or so shells are ignited with electronic charges – similar to how a model rocket is fired. The aforementioned transmitter in Miller’s skilled hands controls the entire show. Safety, of course, is of paramount importance. “Just like any other business, there are little things that can go wrong,” said Miller as he knocked on a nearby wooden platform. “We’ve been pretty successful, and a lot of it comes from experience and double and triple checking.”
Miller, who also is responsible for Holy Spirit Catholic Church’s athletic programs, joked that his coaching and administrative responsibilities are “more explosive,” and conceded Mad Bomber is definitely the fun job. After all, the last four digits of his cellphone number are 1776. “I get more satisfaction out of the Geist Lake show than I do anything else,” said Miller. “I’m pretty well connected in the community with the coaching and stuff that I do, and there are a lot of people who know I put on the fireworks. It kind of puts a bit of extra pressure on to make sure it gets done the correct way and it goes off the way I want it to go off.”
Miller anticipates his children will one day join the business, but not quite yet. “They’re itching to come out now, but I want to wait until they’re a little bit older. They certainly understand the danger of fireworks. There’s plenty of time to fill dad’s shoes.”
This mark’s the tenth consecutive year Miller has orchestrated Blast on the Bridge. He once did a $250,000 show in Chicago. And, considering the hundreds of festivals, football homecomings, weddings, even indoor fireworks for the Indiana Pacers, his will be awfully big shoes to fill.
You can learn more about Mad Bomber Fireworks Productions online at www.madbomberfireworks.com.