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Having a blast

June 25, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Sunblock: check.

Five hundred pounds of explosives: check.

A sense of humor that lets you laugh off the possibility of imminent serious injury or death: check.

Those are some of the things that George Remensnyder, 58, and longtime friend Bill Mahaffey, 59, either were actively using or getting ready to use Friday afternoon as they set up for the night's fireworks display next to Long Meadow Shopping Center.

Remensnyder said he has been shooting off fireworks since the 1960s, and claims that it's only "a hobby."

Neither he nor Mahaffey do the work full time. At home near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Remensnyder is a general construction contractor and Mahaffey has his own insurance company.

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"I don't know if it's any more dangerous than if you go out to report on somebody," Remensnyder told a news reporter. "They might have a gun. We don't have guns."

But they have a lot of powerful explosives.

The fireworks display by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale was scheduled to last 25 minutes, shoot off 532 individual rockets - which look a lot like coconuts - and cost about $8,500, which was paid for by the Long Meadow Shopping Center merchants' association and other local sponsors.

The two men bumped their rental truck over the rear edge of the cornfield along Potomac Avenue until they found their spot: a gentle slope with high grass, hundreds of feet from where anyone would be at 9:30 p.m. - except for the two men, of course.

That's when they were to start setting off the fireworks the old-fashioned way, using a road flare. The fuses have a safety fuse that is about an inch long, but the bulk of the fuses, which are about two feet long, burn in a matter of seconds.

Unlike electronically ignited fireworks, "you've got a couple seconds to touch it and turn your face," Mahaffey said. "They come out of there really rippin'. "

Except, of course, for the ones that don't. Some of the "bombs" don't go off at all, and some don't go up, but go off. That is why local fire departments usually come out as a precaution. The two were grateful that the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co. would be there.

"Some places, they don't even know who in the hell has the keys to the firetruck," Remensnyder said.

And emergency services can be needed. Remensnyder said a firework blew up near his son once, forcing a hospital visit. Mahaffey said one went astray and struck his son in the rear.

The sun blared Friday as the two men assembled their racks of tubes that would hold the fireworks, but the heat barely was noted as they did their work.

Remensnyder said the crowds - and the money - keep him coming back.

"Some people pay what, $5,000 for fireworks?" Remensnyder said. "We get paid!"

But he said he also looks at himself and his partner as two performers, working at the will of the crowds.

"We're artists," Remensnyder said. "The sky is our canvas and fire is our paint."

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