A large crowd gathered around Allen Soccer Field in New London’s Hatten Park, Monday, July 4.
The past four years New London’s fireworks have been launched from that site. Over the years more ground and tree-top level fireworks have been incorporated into the show, much to the crowd’s delight.
This year spectators arrived earlier than ever to set up their blankets and chairs along the perimeter of the field.
What most people do not know however is that the show almost didn’t go on. As of 9:15 a.m. Monday it was still up in the air because of an accident that happened the night before.
Lead pyrotechnics specialist for the fireworks, Rich Schmidt, went down in his powered parachute near Gills Landing on the Wolf River Sunday evening. He clipped the power lines, hit a pole and then sunk to the bottom of the river. He was unconscious and still harnessed into the rig.
Two nearby fishermen who witnessed the crash dove in and released him from the harness and brought him back up to the river’s surface.
A nurse on another boat saw the accident and responded. Rich did not have a pulse and was not breathing. They administered CPR until an ambulance arrived. ThedaStar Helicopter was dispatched.
Thanks to those who reacted on the spot, and the care he received afterwards, he was literally brought back to life. He remained in critical condition.
On Monday morning, July 4, Rich was conscious and able to communicate, though he was still in very serious condition, and lucky to be alive. His main concern was the New London City fireworks display, which he was scheduled to lead that evening
I can imagine for him it was much like the feeling a college graduate might get now and then, waking up in a cold sweat, fearing they missed a final exam.
Schmidt’s special friend “Miss Paula” was at his side through the night and worked to ease his nerves when the fireworks laid heavy on his mind. Dave and Becky Roberts, Tom Pluff and his amazing son Nate, and numerous other friends stepped up to ensure the show could go on.
Scott Miller, a highly talented pyrotechnics expert and close friend of Schmidt’s from Great Lakes Fireworks, drove all the way up from Fond du Lac to see the show through.
Things went from unknowing to certainty and “the show must go on” philosophy set in.
“There’s no doubt about it, this show is in honor of Rich Schmidt,” said Scott Miller’s mother before the spectacular fireworks display began.
“Wait till you see the grand finale,” she said as people started to line the edges of Allen Soccer Field.
Schmidt has built a gathering of fans over the past four years after moving the fireworks from an unsafe launch zone atop the sledding hill near Riverside Park to the center of the city’s most prized park, Hatten Park. He specializes in all types of ground displays while still incorporating a large amount of aerial surprises nicely combined with tree top displays that can only be experienced to their fullest by being there in person.
Several years ago, after receiving a standing ovation for one of his shows, Schmidt told this reporter, “If you can make people’s hair stand up and let them feel the show, in addition to just seeing it, then you’ve got a show they remember.”
He’s absolutely right.
Monday, he would have been proud of the show put on by his friends and family and technician Scott Miller. “The show must go on” said Miller. “Rich wouldn’t have it any other way.”