Bryce Boyer usually watches fireworks like no one else.
Sure, the 4thFest VIP viewing area is where some onlookers comfortably take in custom ground effects, set pieces, fireworks and a musical score for the entirety of the show. But what if you could get as close as Boyer, to feel what it’s like to have thousands of fireworks bursting around you?
For the past 38 years, the 78-year-old has spent the Fourth of July on fire watch. He’d set up camp in the fireworks field, suiting up in flameproof gear to put out small fires sparked by exploding fireworks. After the show, as a safety precaution, he’d manually light the fuses of fireworks that did not shoot on queue.
But this year, in a rare twist, Boyer and his wife got to be spectators.
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“I don’t want to call him a daredevil, but I don’t know if there’s a better word for him,” 4thFest Pyrotechnics Chairman Gary Mayhew said. “During the show most of us watch it. He has the ultimate up-close and personal experience with the fireworks. He lives for this. He loves going out there like a kid after the show, gets his torch going and he’s on the radio, ‘4-inch going up.’ ”
But Boyer sees himself in a different light.
He’s been the the 4thFest’s self-described “gopher” for the past 38 years, a volunteer who can do it all, though is limited by time in a day and, even more so, by not being in a younger man’s body.
“I maybe do less now,” he said. “My body is maturing. Is that a nice way to put it?”
If you asked anyone who knows him, they’d say he’s underestimating himself.
He still swings a sledgehammer in the fields to set up fireworks, teaches newbies what to do and is “the most resourceful person here.”
“Bryce is the most honest and the most hardworking individual I’ve ever met in my life,” Mayhew said. “With Bryce it’s a constant go, go, go drive. And he’s got the stamina of a 20-year-old. There is nothing he is not willing to tackle. He comes out here and no one has to send him to do tasks. He sees what needs to be done and does it. We’ve got volunteers that want to work with just Bryce. That’s a testament to him.”
Boyer began to volunteer as a favor for Dan Barker, who needed a few extra hands to set up fireworks.
He didn’t know if he’d be into fireworks, but “you go and do it for friends.” The answer is obvious about four decades later.
“Because of my experience and knowing about everything I’ll do this little job, then that particular job and then I’m on to the next one.” Boyer said. “And I enjoy seeing all the people.”
The Fourth of July isn’t all about the fireworks to Boyer, who said it is only the main attraction.
It’s a family reunion of sorts — seeing other volunteers one week out of the year, circling chairs during lunch to talk and fetching each other drinks to beat the humidity and heat.
“I would recommend volunteering to anyone who has the ability to do it,” Boyer said. “Come for a day, experience it and see how you can get involved. It’s important to our community and to the wider community, because we have people come in from all across the country. It’s a good feeling to be a part of that.”
He said it
“The Fourth of July is a good time to get together,” Bryce Boyer, an Air Force veteran, said. “Keep in mind what it’s for. This is a celebration of our country.”