GENEVA – As he set up a fireworks display at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, Les Mayhew methodically went around to make sure all of the hundreds of fireworks shells were properly connected.
“It’s like paint by numbers,” said Mayhew, a compliance and training administrator for Melrose Pyrotechnics. He is in charge of making sure the fireworks shows that follow the Kane County Cougars games go off without a hitch.
Mayhew, 55, has worked for Melrose Pyrotechnics since 1987. His interest in fireworks began when he was a child, adding he “was always fascinated by them as a kid.”
Hours before the game was set to start, Mayhew set up the fireworks in a grassy area just outside the ballpark.
“I like to be finished before the start of the national anthem,” Mayhew said. “It takes a good three hours to set up for the show.”
Mayhew also is in charge of packing each fireworks shell into the corresponding mortars. The fireworks display is programmed in Melrose Pyrotechnics’ office in Indiana and electronically fired on site. The arrangement makes for a much safer situation than hand firing the fireworks, he said.
“I can concentrate on other things, like dealing with the weather,” Mayhew said.
However, there is an override system that allows him to intercede in case of equipment failure.
Mayhew is a familiar face at the ballpark, as he has been doing the fireworks shows at Kane County Cougars games since 1999. During his time as a fireworks operator, Mayhew said he has never been injured, which he attributed to taking the proper precautions.
“You have to be aware of your environment and be conscious of everything going on around you,” Mayhew said.
Working behind the scenes, however, means that Mayhew never gets a good view of the show.
“You are far enough away to make sure everything is safe, but you don’t get the full effect of the show,” he said.
For Mayhew, being around fireworks is a family affair. His son, Tim, also works for Melrose Pyrotechnics, as does Mayhew’s wife, Sandy. She balances her part-time job at Melrose Pyrotechnics with her full-time job as the owner of a flower shop in Chicago Ridge.
“I’m booming, and she’s blooming,” Mayhew joked.
The two of them will be around fireworks this Fourth of July. Mayhew will be setting up Batavia fireworks show that day, and his wife will be handling the fireworks show in St. Charles.
“I’m at both places and will test everything,” Mayhew said. “She helps me do a couple shows throughout the year.”
The biggest thrill Mayhew gets from his job comes at the end of the day, when he hears the roar of the crowd as the fireworks are exploding in the air high above him.
“The crowd goes crazy,” Mayhew said. “I feel good knowing I brought pleasure to all these people.”
If you go
Local fireworks displays
BATAVIA: The Batavia “Sky Concert” will be at 9:30 p.m. today. Community members are invited to view the display from Engstrom Park, at the corner of Main and Millview streets. To learn more, visit www.bataviafireworks.org/show-details.
ST. CHARLES: The annual St. Charles July Fourth Celebration will take place at dark tonight. The fireworks extravaganza can be viewed at Pottawatomie Park, 8 North Ave., St. Charles, or Ferson Creek Park, on Route 31, east of Wildrose Springs Drive, St. Charles. For information, call the St. Charles Park District at 630-513-6200 or visit www.stcparks.org.
AURORA: The show is at 9:30 p.m. today. The display can be viewed at McCullough Park at Illinois Avenue and Lake Street or RiverEdge Park at 360 N. Broadway St.