Allen Miller shudders at the suggestion that he is a leader. The journeyman lineman for 4 Rivers Electric Cooperative, Lebo, Kansas, serves as Fredonia’s mayor, sits on Fredonia’s chamber board, is active in the Lion’s Club, mentors a successor to his pyrotechnics business, and will instruct at an electric linemen hot line school this fall.
“I don’t like the word leader,” Miller said. “They keep calling me boss at City Hall. I’m just another guy. I’m here to try to do the best that we can for the city.”
Miller is hard-line, but his job requires it. He knows a weak-kneed approach in his profession can be deadly. He carries that same mindset to his fireworks business, Miller Pyrotechnics.
A self-professed firebug, Miller recalls blowing up “stuff” at a young age.
“It’s always been a thrill,” he said. “If you’re going to give me a chance to create a boom, I will.”
He’s amassed more than 25 years shooting professional fireworks and swore he was going to retire from the business back in 2016. Now more than seven years later, Miller completed another year of Independence Day celebrations for the cities of Chanute and Fredonia in July.
About the time he was ready to call it quits, a young man also interested in pyrotechnics came to his attention. Adrian Ingles, Emporia, had been shooting off his own consumer grade fireworks shows when his aunt got in contact with Miller through mutual acquaintances.
Interestingly, Ingles’ introduction to fireworks at a young age didn’t mirror Miller’s enthusiasm for pyrotechnics.
“I used to wear earplugs and sunglasses during shows at night and any loud sounds scared me,” Ingles said laughing. “I only shot off smoke bombs for years, then something bit me, and I decided to go all out with it. Now here I am standing 3 feet away from mortars.”
Ingles is a recent graduate of Emporia State University with a degree in music and teaches high school shop technologies and band/drumline in addition to playing percussion for theater events in the area. He got a crash course in the professional pyrotechnics business when he worked Miller’s personal fireworks show staged for family. Miller would show Ingles how he wanted the work done, let Ingles take a crack at it, and then evaluate his work. If anything was not up to Miller’s standards, they would start over.
“The thought was, if we screw up that show, it’s not that big of a deal,” Miller said. “I still don’t want to screw it up, but you know how family is — ‘ah best show I’ve ever seen.’”
Miller’s mentoring style is simple: He’s a straight shooter, a perfectionist and believes leading by example is paramount to success in all the roles he has taken on. He gains trust by practicing what he preaches. In working with interns this summer at 4 Rivers, he made sure they knew he had their backs.
“I’ve looked at them both and said, ‘I’m not going to ask you to do anything that I haven’t already done or am not willing to do myself.’ I am not above anything,” Miller said.
Just as lineworkers must trust each other to follow safety protocols in every situation, Miller and Ingles have forged a similar relationship. In an era of electronic everything, Miller and Ingles opt to hand light the shells and cake fuses versus using an electronic control board. It adds another degree of difficulty, Miller said, but if something goes wrong, for example a rack of fireworks is damaged during the show, they know right away and can avoid shooting those fireworks.
Ingles relies on and trusts Miller’s experience and knows they have each other’s back. The pair will walk through their fireworks show — sequence of cakes, tubes and how many tubes per cake — up to five times before a show depending on the time available. Miller has learned to plan for the worst, hope for the best and adjust midstream.
“We walk through it, we step through it, we talk through it, we discuss it to the point that it’s monotony,” Miller said. “It never goes perfectly but the crowd never knows.”
Miller’s ability to make an informed, safe decision as a journeyman lineman naturally transfers to his pyrotechnics business. Trying something new is fine with Miller if it makes sense and is done in the safest way possible.
“Everyone’s got to go home,” Miller said. “Whether you have a family yet or not, you’ve got a family above you — a mom or dad, a sister, grandparents who are still looking forward to seeing you.”
Ingles echoes Miller’s safety mindset agreeing that you can never be safe enough with fireworks of any grade. The pair would welcome help setting up and firing off their shows, but not just any warm body will do. “It takes someone who is going to respect the rules — it requires the utmost safety,” Ingles said.
The high standards they set for their shows mirror their expectations of each other if something were to go wrong. Ingles gave the example scenario of his “big ol’ mane” of hair catching fire.
“He may not want to, but he’d stop the show and make sure I’m taken care of,” Ingles said and then quickly clarified, that with the emergency personnel always on site, both he and Miller would want the show to go on. “The show doesn’t end.”
Miller agreed. “If something happens to me, the guys can drag me out, but they better keep shooting.”
As a newly minted teacher, Ingles believes helping others ensures skills are passed on to younger generations.
He says he was fortunate to have older mentors teaching him new skills when he was growing up, including the lost art of milling cedar shingles.
“Why not pass that torch down,” Ingles said. Otherwise, we can forget our history and the only way you can learn that is from others inviting people to learn.”
Years ago, Miller never would have considered running for a political office or volunteering at the level he does today, saying he would have laughed and questioned the logic. Nowadays, he contributes where he can.
“I’ve been blessed in life so why not try to give back something — it’s humbling,” Miller said.
His work with the chamber and as a mayor opened his eyes to the extraordinary number of volunteers it takes to get projects off the ground. “There’s a small village behind all of it,” Miller said. “We gotta lead by example.”
To be eligible to take the display operator permit exam, Ingles had to complete three shoots in a three-year period. He earned his license in 2022, opening the door for Miller to retire from the fireworks shows knowing he has a successor. But the firebug in him is not ready to step aside.
“I somewhat feel obligated to continue and as I told Adrian, the cities are wonderful to work for,” Miller said.
Contemplating the next five years and what may change, Ingles says he plans to continue working the fireworks shows and would welcome the challenge of shooting a show for the Kansas City Chiefs. Miller says he will continue his personal shows and when asked about the city shows, Ingles quickly interrupted. “Oh, he will be, but under me,” Ingles chuckled, eliciting laughter from Miller.