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Man+fireworks=love at first light

John Miller and Janice Ventura are the faces behind some of the most explosive fireworks shows in Kitsap County. Their team will be at the ready to make sure Poulsbo’s Fireworks Over the Fjord runs smoothly tonight. The show starts at about 10:20 p.m. over Liberty Bay. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
John Miller and Janice Ventura are the faces behind some of the most explosive fireworks shows in Kitsap County. Their team will be at the ready to make sure Poulsbo’s Fireworks Over the Fjord runs smoothly tonight. The show starts at about 10:20 p.m. over Liberty Bay.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

EAST BREMERTON — John Miller’s relationship with fireworks parallels Willie Wonka’s fascination with candy: Dad said no.

While he was growing up in Indiana, his father drew a hard line against fireworks. There was a moment when the youngster’s dad almost wavered, which became a defining point in his life. He was about 9 years old and he saw a mom throw her child’s fireworks into the trash can. Miller retrieved them and took them home. His father promised to light them, but reneged and threw them away.

“I was devastated,” Miller said.

The moment he was old enough to purchase fireworks himself, he did. It was love at first light.

That love has ignited into a full-time passion and hobby, as Miller is the man behind the fuse at some of the largest fireworks shows in Kitsap County: Poulsbo’s Fireworks Over the Fjord, Bainbridge Island’s Arnold Jackson Memorial Fireworks Display, Whaling Days in Silverdale and Port Gamble’s Old Mill Days.

The public displays are a labor of love, while his 16 fireworks stands scattered throughout the county and beyond are his bread and butter.

He and his crew of certified pyro technicians begin preparation for each show months in advance. Careful planning — both logistically and for safety purposes — go on behind the scenes to elicit the crowd’s appreciative oohs and aahs.

“What the public doesn’t realize when they see that 10 or 15 minutes of the fireworks show is that we’ve spent months preparing,” said Miller’s business and life partner Janice Ventura, herself a veteran of 20 shows.

Once the first question is answered — music or no music? — the rest of the show can follow suit. The team’s resident musician, Rob Mitz, is charged with picking the sounds to accompany the sights.

Setting up a fireworks show is a complicated process that commands an attention to detail and safety. Shells (the boom of the fireworks show) must be positioned in tubes, marked and placed in sequence, then wired with electric matches. To physically set up takes several days, as there are “hundreds and hundreds” of shells sacrificed for each show.

When the rocket’s red glare bursts over open water, the logistics become even more interesting, said second-generation pyro lover Dexter Deam of Bremerton. The shells, tubes and fuses are positioned on a barge, then towed to their destination.

While the crowd’s attention is directed upward, the crew’s is fixated on safety. Safety begins from the ground up, as the location chosen for fireworks shows must be approved by a fire inspector to make sure it meets rigorous standards that begin at the federal level with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, filters through several layers of bureaucracy and lands in the most local government’s jurisdiction.

Pyro technicians wear protective gear, and for shows that light up from barges, a “boom shack” provides an additional veil of safety, Deam said.

“That’s what you get behind if things go wrong,” he said.

But with trained professionals behind the electric matches, things rarely do.

“It’s less dangerous to do a professional show than a home show,” Deam said.

Pyro technicians enjoy the sights and smells of fireworks show just as much as the spectators do, Deam said.

“The barge actually flexes, “ he said, mimicking the sensation felt when a firework shoots from a barge. His feet spread shoulder width apart, he jumped about an inch off the ground.

For Miller, few joys come close the smell of expended fireworks, especially those at the first fireworks show of the season.

“It just feels great, knowing you’re getting back into the fun of the season,” he said.

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