For the folks at Entertainment Fireworks in Tenino, the 4th of July is akin to the Super Bowl or Christmas multiplied 100 times. But the celebrations are tempered this year by the loss of a beloved employee who died in an explosion June 18 at one of the company's buildings.
"I'm shaken about it," says Ken Julian, vice-president of operations and co-owner of Entertainment Fireworks. "When my people come to work in the morning, I expect to send them home in the evening and I didn't get to send one of those guys home, and that weighs heavy on me."
Bill Hill, 75, was killed while working on fireworks for one of the company's 100 shows across the region. Three others in the building with him were able to escape the flames.
"He's been working with us part time now for for eight years and loved fireworks, just absolutely loved fireworks. He was a great guy, a great pyro," Julian says.
It was a devastating blow for the company and its people. But with just three weeks to prepare for shows across Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, Julian says the team has fought through the grief and soldiered on, with Bill never far from their thoughts.
"Bill wouldn't have wanted it any other way," he says. "Everybody mustered here and they did a great job."
It's a huge undertaking. Over the last three weeks, they've raced to finish assembling fireworks for all of their shows, loading them onto nearly 100 trucks to transport all of the hardware and equipment. Here in western Washington alone, they'll put on shows in Edmonds, Bellevue, Kenmore, Federal Way, Lacy, Emerald Downs and the Skagit Speedway.
"We're ready now for a full season with all of our customers," Julian says. He says knowing how much people enjoy their shows helps ease the pain, at least a little.
"He would have wanted us to continue and bring the enjoyment that we provide as a service to the people looking forward to having a display from us," he says.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation. The building where the fire happened has been replaced by two white concrete blocks that will be part of a memorial to Bill, featuring an industrial-sized wind chime. "He was just an all-around good guy," Julian says. "We'll never forget him."