Ricky Zimmerman makes sure the Madison's Fourth of July fireworks celebration goes off without a problem. Zimmerman shoots off the hundreds of fireworks shells that will explode in the sky over Liberty Park beginning at 9 p.m. July 4.
Ricky Zimmerman makes sure the Madison's Fourth of July fireworks celebration goes off without a problem. Zimmerman shoots off the hundreds of fireworks shells that will explode in the sky over Liberty Park beginning at 9 p.m. July 4.
When the crowd oohs and aahs over the fireworks bursting in the Madison sky on July 4, Ricky Zimmerman will be too busy to notice.

Instead, he will scurry from one set of mortars – the wooden boxes holding fiberglass tubes that house individual fireworks shells – to another to light another fuse using a road flare.  Wearing a fireman’s turnout gear, including a helmet, to protect against any fiery ash fallout, Zimmerman keeps the pyrotechnics going for the sky show.

For more than 20 years, as long as Madison has been celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks displays, Zimmerman has been the one sending them skyward.

The show that brings out thousands of families annually to Liberty Park and the surrounding office and retailers’ parking lots begins at 9 p.m. on Monday, July 4.

“You have to get the oohs and the ahhs,” said Zimmerman, an employee of Madison’s public works department but contracts with the fireworks supplier to run the show.

Timing is everything in this show. He lights one fuse on a mortar that will quickly set off up to 12 tubes holding shells and then moves to another.

He has it carefully choreographed so that the effects vary throughout the show. There are the peonies (exploding circles of colored stars), chrysanthemums (similar but with stars leaving a trail of sparks),  willows (variation that leaves long cascades of smoke), rings (exploding circles within circles) and more.

“Once the first shell goes off, I try not to have any pauses in the show,” Zimmerman said. “I may look up but not very often.”

During the show, Zimmerman expects to be setting off 700 to 800 shells from his spot in the outfield of field 5 at Liberty Park.  The fireworks display will last about 20 to 25 minutes, but the set-up takes hours. He will begin about 3 p.m. on July 4 placing the mortars across the field. He finishes about 8:30 after placing each pear-shaped shell, which can range from two to eight inches, in its firing tube, then tamping each one down and leaving the fuse exposed.

Once lit, the shell explodes out of its tube, sending sparks that fall back to earth. “Sometimes it shoots out so hard, it burns the flare out,” he said.

“The smaller ones burn you more than the big ones,” Zimmerman said, adding that’s why he wears his old volunteer firefighter coat and helmet for protection.

Jo Luby, the city’s special events coordinator, said she appreciates Zimmerman’s skill and dedication to Madison’s fireworks display that is a tradition for families to come out and enjoy.

“This adds so much to the holiday where families gather for cookouts and get-togethers to celebrate America’s birthday,” she said.



Waste Management has partnered with the city this year to sponsor this patriotic display, Luby said.

“Waste Management is proud to sponsor this beloved family favorite event that lights up the skies over Madison.  As a community partner, we would like to invite everyone to join us in celebrating America’s birthday,” said company spokesman Buford Clark. “Our local team wishes you a happy and safe Fourth of July. “