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Monday, July 19th, 2010

Family hobby a blast

Peels plan upcoming fireworks display

By Janie Southard

Lake Festival 2009 brought many ooohs and aaaaahs from the crowd as displays lik. . .

CELINA - It was his dream as the ultimate job - shooting fireworks off a barge in Grand Lake. He's now fulfilled that vision many times.
Barry Peel Jr. became a licensed pyrotechnician in 2002 and will be the lead shooter at this year's Lake Festival fireworks display at 10 p.m. Friday.
Setting off fireworks has come a long way from igniting the fuse via cigarette lighter and later using a lit cigar to touch it off, he observed. Most big shows are done by computer programs and that's how Peel does the local barge show. Friday's fireworks will be choreographed to music broadcast on WCSM 96.7.
"That will be a real show. People can turn on their radios and watch the fireworks," he said.
Peel is a shooter for Extreme Pyrotechnics in Texas, and the product is shipped ready to go from Columbus. But there's fine tuning necessary, such as setting the angle of the preloaded tubes. The "cool thing" about shooting from the water is that the fireworks can be angled to skip over the water's surface," he said, labeling the feat "awesome."
Peel loved fireworks from the very beginning, standing in the backyard while his grandpa shot rockets and occasionally handed him a sparkler. He was 10 years old when his grandpa finally let him light some ladyfingers.
"It was a sort of right of passage. I was hooked forever," he said last week while at his business, Peel's Pit Stop in Celina.
A few years later he got his two younger brothers rounded up for family fireworks in their own backyard shows. Very soon the neighbors started coming over with their own rockets for a really big backyard show.
In 2002, he was invited to Indiana to work with a fireworks professional at a Fourth of July celebration.
"I said the only way I'd do it is if they would take my brother (Brett) too," he said, adding he and Brett have always been best friends.
"It was our first commercial show and we were both hooked. By the next year we were both licensed," he said.
Rockford Community Days that year was their first professional show.
Now the whole family, Peel's wife, Jane, and son, Barry III, and others all have permits to help with the shows.
Peel said he cringes when he hears of an accident involving fireworks.
"We are sticklers on safety, crowd safety first and then shooter safety." he said.
So far, so good. In fact, so far, real good. It was the Peels who shot the last 45-pound shell firework in the United States - off a Grand Lake barge during Freedom Days 2009 with Barry and company loading and lighting.
"It was a special moment for me and my family, although, I don't think anyone else even knew what was happening," he said.
The 45-pound shell was banned by the government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Only those already in inventory were excluded.
It was the Peels again at the helm of Freedom Days 2010, which went off without a hitch on July 3. The brothers and families packed up immediately after clean-up and drove 12 hours to Valdosta, Ga., to do a show at the Wild Adventure Theme Park at 9 p.m. July 4.
"It was great. They'd never had fireworks down there before and the crowd loved it," he said.
The reason for the Peels' expertise varies, including weddings, anniversaries and various special events. Minimum cost is $1,000 for a small display, but they've also put on $25,000 private shows.
"I do remember back in 2000 watching the Lake Festival fireworks shooting off the barge in the lake and I thought then it has to be the absolute ultimate job in the world," he said.
Ten years later he still thinks so.
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