The Fire Gods of Carrier, Oklahoma

Red Dirt Report, July 2nd, 2016

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The Fire Gods of Carrier, Oklahoma Oklahoma fireworks company lights up Bricktown, the world

By Heide Brandes

On Monday, the night sky above Oklahoma City’s Bricktown will erupt in an explosion of light, noise and music. Crowds of gaping mouths sighing “oooh” and “aah” accompany the bombastic display of colors that race into the sky, detonating into spectacles of sizzling brightness that paint the night with celebration and American pride.

The fireworks are part of the Bricktown 4th Fest, an annual Independence Day celebration to be held Monday at Centennial Fountain near Harkins Theatres in Bricktown While the Bricktown 4th Fest party kicks off at 7 p.m. with music and more, the real show – the fire theater in the sky – won’t begin until 9:30.

Behind the scenes, Vernon Muzney, crew chief for the Oklahoma-based pyrotechnics and fireworks manufacturer Western Enterprises, is bringing the show together. His crew is family, a hand-picked group of people who have been raised up, trained and bonded in the world of fire.

Muzney is the coach for this team that will launch a winning game of fireworks at 4th Fest. He’s also the guy that coordinates and runs the fireworks at the baseball games in Bricktown and other Oklahoma City events.

“Every single show is a collaborative effort, and it all comes together on the actual day when all the work we do comes together,” said Gary Caimano, choreographer and marketing director for Western Enterprises. “We start planning a show months and months in advance. From the permitting to the choreography to manufacturing, so much goes into a show.”

Western Enterprises, based in the 88-person community of Carrier, Oklahoma, is one of the few remaining pyrotechnics companies that still manufacture their own fireworks and create their own concerts of light. Founded in 1948 by Norman Burnett, Western Enterprises presents their signature choreographed firework shows throughout America, but was also invited to represent the United States of America on July 20 at the world’s largest pyrotechnics competition, held each year in Montreal.

“It’s difficult and it’s dangerous work, but it attracts crews that grow together and stay together,” said Caimano. “It’s baptism by fire, literally.”

FIRECRACKER PHENOMENON

In the 1940s, Enid was still a small farm town tucked away in the lonely plains of northern Oklahoma. Norman Burnett, a spunky country gentleman with a penchant for fireworks, was also a savvy businessman, and in 1946, he began selling consumer fireworks at fireworks stands.

In 1948, Burnett started presenting his own fireworks shows and pyrotechnic displays around the nation, and and by 1950, he expanded into Colorado. The little Oklahoma firecracker company just grew from there.

“Enid was just a small town at the time, and the company got too big for Enid,” said Caimano. “Norman had to move the company way, way out somewhere, and Carrier was perfect. It has lots and lots of land, just pristine land, and not a lot of people. Even though we employ hundreds of people, we are just small core of people.”

Burnett had the perfect fusion of a love of fireworks and a pioneer spirit. In the early days, fireworks were difficult to make and display, but the early giants like Western Enterprises, Zambelli Fireworks Company on the east coast and Pyrospectacular on the west coast paved the way for modern day explosive experts.

Today, Norman’s son, Jim Burnett, runs Western Enterprises, keeping the business in the family, which is pretty common in the fireworks world.

Caimano’s own father manufactured fireworks in Pennsylvania. After his father died in a manufacturing accident at the fireworks plant, Caimano was forbidden from continuing the fireworks family tradition.

“I couldn’t help it. I snuck back every chance I could. It’s a passion that gets in your blood,” Caimano said. “Today, there are so many things we do for precautions, so many things we do is safety-related.” Caimano worked for Zambelli before moving to Oklahoma’s Western Enterprises.

“You have to realize most of the fireworks crews are family. I grew up in the business, and you tend to go with people who have experience. People start as laborers and move up through the ranks,” he said. “You look for people with passion and skills. The crews grow like family and are multi-generational. The bond between crew members is sacred.”

BLOWING UP THE SCENE

Caimano and Western Enterprises are one of only a handful of fireworks companies that truly specialize in choreographed fireworks shows. Caimano blends the furor of dramatic and compelling music with the spectacle of vast fireworks displays to create an experience that’s overwhelming, awe-inspiring and moving at the same time.

That unique combination wowed the crowds at one of the first musically-choreographed events at the 1990 St. Louis Fair, where that magical combination of music and light wowed crowds under the arch.

The 15-minute show in Bricktown designed by Caiman, will be a unique audio/visual experience conducted by a highly trained and professionally licensed six-member team.

Caimano has choreographed thousands of special events spanning 36 years, including the opening and closing ceremonies for the summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996, the Oklahoma Centennial Extravaganza ceremonies in Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 2010 and the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks display on the East River in New York City for nearly a decade beginning in the early ‘80s. Western Enterprises also participated in the World Symposium on Fireworks at Walt Disney World in 1996.

Western Enterprises also manufactures for Disney World and select others, but 95 percent of the product they manufacture is for their own use. The company is one of only 10 or 12 companies that make product for use in their own performances, and every year, Western Enterprises' chief physicist Allen Johnson creates new explosives that stun even the fireworks experts.

“Fireworks are America’s free show. That roar of appreciation makes how grueling it is so worth it,” Caimano said. “Putting on a fireworks show is physically and mentally demanding, but it’s so unbelievably beautiful.”

After the Bricktown show, Western Enterprises will head to Montreal on July 20 for an international fireworks competition, representing America's talent.

“It’s pyrotechnic theater, the shells are like characters, performing in concert to create a mood and connect on an emotional level with viewers. Each choreographed event is unique, and success is dependent on every member of our team working together in perfect unison. It’s absolutely a team effort, I can’t stress that enough,” Caimano said. “Teamwork has always been the cornerstone of Western Enterprises, the secret to our longevity and success."

The Bricktown 4th party kicks-off at 7 p.m. at Centennial Fountain, with DJ Roy “Musicman” Henderson on the main stage playing family-oriented Top 40 and Country music until the fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.

The fireworks will be visible from anywhere in Bricktown and surrounding areas, and lawn chairs and blankets are encouraged. Bricktown District Manager Mallory O’Neill said she expects popular viewing areas to be Lower Bricktown surrounding the fountain, the rooftop patio at West Restaurant, 1 Mickey Mantle Dr., and the new Bricktown Beach on the 3rd Base Plaza at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Bricktown 4th Fest is presented by Kickapoo Casino. Sponsors include Communication Federal Credit Union, Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. – Bricktown, Oklahoma City Convention Bureau, Prodigal, and Walker Companies.

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