Staging that fantastic fireworks show on Bayou Plaquemine
The highlight of the annual July 4th Hometown Celebration is the fantastic fireworks show that draws thousands to Bayou Plaquemine. That dramatic end to the annual festival is the result of a lot of hard work by volunteer members of the Plaquemine Knights of Columbus Council 970.
Staging the fireworks takes a lot of time and expertise – and the KC’s, led by local fireworks guru Ralph Comeaux, Jr., have provided this service each of the 15 years of the festival. Comeaux plans the quantity of fireworks and the order in which they will be lit well before July, then orders the fireworks for both the display, and also the fireworks that the KC sells from its booth on Price Street in Plaquemine. Comeaux also submits a detailed permit application to the La. Fire Marshal’s Office. A permit is required for every fireworks show in the state.
They get help from Sheriff Brett Stassi and local jail trustees, who unload the 20-foot trailer packed with fireworks. On July 4, a team of KC members spends much of their holiday preparing for and staging the fireworks display.
“It takes about five hours to get it all loaded on a trailer, hauled to the site behind the Plaquemine Lock Historic Site, unloaded, unboxed and unsealed, and another hour to set the fireworks up in the order we shoot them,” said Comeaux. “If we have dry weather we like to be set up an hour before the show begins, and are there for a while after the fireworks show to make sure there are no smoldering fireworks left behind.”
The team that has worked on the shows includes Jason Leonard, “Boonie” Boudreaux, “Punchy” Daigle, Cade Leonard, Barry Lamonthe, Jacob Barbier, “Mickey” Rivet, Kevin Hidalgo, Dwayne Dupree, Lloyd Bouchereau, Jack Laurent, Archie Callais and Gary Pruitt. Comeaux also credited “Coot” Breaux with helping establish the KC’s fireworks program many years ago.
“For the 20-minute show, we have two guys lighting constantly, and four lighting for the finale,” he said. The program is timed, so another team member is shouting 30 second intervals so that they know when to light each firework. “We really can’t see any of the fireworks in the sky because of all the smoke, but we’re also looking down, timing when to light the next one,” he explained. “We don’t want any delays in fireworks going off in the sky, and for the finale, we have a lot of fireworks going off all at once,” he said.
Those shooting the 200 boxes of fireworks and artillery shells wear fire-resistant Nomex suits and shields, which are very hot in July. “We usually have one or two firework items blow up on the ground each show,” he said. “One year my arm was cut when one blew up. We have to be careful.” Special-made torches with butane are used to light the fireworks.
Both Comeaux and Leonard are state licensed as special effects pyrotechnic operators through the La. Fire Marshal’s Office. Licensed operators are required to get the state permit. In addition, a staff member of the Fire Marshal’s Office is on site to inspect and monitor all activities of the show. Plaquemine City Police are required to have officers keep the public 200 feet away, and a Plaquemine Fire Department truck and crew is required at the site. The firefighters spray down the area after the fireworks show to make sure no smoldering fireworks catch fire.
“We do it as a community service,” Comeaux said of the effort involved. Last year, the fireworks show drew more than 8,000 people to the downtown Plaquemine area. A few thousand were in the Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park for the celebration and music, and thousands more watched from the Plaquemine Lock, the St. John the Evangelist Church parking area and were lined up along La. Hwy 1 and other downtown areas.
“It’s a great way to end our July 4th celebration,” noted Lorraine Hidalgo, event coordinator. “I have had employees from Dow Chemical Co. tell me that they can see both the fireworks display in downtown Baton Rouge and the fireworks display at Plaquemine, and Plaquemine’s is as good as the one in Baton Rouge.”
The KC’s originally started the fireworks program as a fundraiser for the Council. “We sell fireworks every July 1-4, and at Christmas and New Year’s, and we have people who come from as far as Lake Charles and Hammond to buy from us because we’re cheaper than any of the tent sellers,” Comeaux said. “We add a small markup on the fireworks we sell, but nothing near the big mark-up that other fireworks stands charge. It’s common for our bigger items to sell for $15 or $20 less each than those stands.”
The KC’s will be selling this weekend with the following schedule: July 1 from 6 – 8:30 p.m., July 2-3 from 2 until 8:30 p.m., and July 4 from 2 until 6 p.m. at a building next to the KC Council hall on Price Street in Plaquemine.