June 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in summer 2015 B2B.

If you’ve ever been dazzled by fireworks at TD Ameritrade Park or Memorial Stadium, you know Paint the Sky Productions.

Owner Ted Kallhof has coordinated some of the area’s largest fireworks displays for the past 15 years. A pyrotechnician since 1985, Kallhof started Paint the Sky Productions (a subsidiary of nationwide J&M Displays) as a way to make extra money doing something he loves. Today, the company includes 65 part-time employees who put on more than 130 events each year.

Walking the grounds of Kallhof’s 25-acre rural Council Bluffs property, you would never suspect that at times there are thousands of pounds of explosives tucked away out of sight. Next to the chicken coop, not far from the dilapidated old barn Kallhof is in the process of demolishing, stand storage containers housing enough explosives to light up the sky like the Fourth of July.

In the fireworks business, safety must be of the utmost concern, and Kallhof employs strict measures to ensure his operations are safe. He could not take me near any of the storage facilities, saying, “We can’t even make the address public, because of the amount of explosives out here.”

Kallhof trains his employees on the property, holding week-long certification courses where they learn how to safely and effectively handle fireworks. Paint the Sky’s website boasts a perfect safety record across 750 events.

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“It’s changed a lot over the years,” Kallhof says. “Ten years ago, everything was lit by hand, but today it’s almost completely computerized. We only do five or six shows a year by hand, everything else is computer or wireless.”

Paint the Sky has created fireworks spectacles for every kind of event you can imagine—personal, corporate, municipal, and sports-related. Lots of sports-related events.

“We became an NCAA preferred vendor a few years ago,” Kallhof says. “I’m a lot busier now than before.” As an NCAA preferred vendor, Kallhof visits stadiums around the country to facilitate shows.

They also specialize in effects for television programs, like ABC’s In an Instant, which was recently filmed in the area.

Throughout the years, Kallhof says some events have been particularly memorable.

“We did a memorial service for a woman who had breast cancer,” he remembered. “I met her about six months before she passed away. She didn’t like that her family couldn’t enjoy themselves around her when she was sick, so she wanted it to be fun.” She was cremated and her ashes were shot up into the sky with the fireworks.

Omaha’s 150th birthday celebration in 2004 also stands out for Kallhof. Paint the Sky put on a display using 50,000 pounds of explosives deployed in eight minutes at three sites within a mile and a half of each other.

When you are working with something captivating that brings joy to so many, it feels good to give back. Kallhof says he enjoys working with groups like Molly’s Miracles, an organization for children battling brain cancer.

“We put on a free show for the kids every year,” he says. “It’s great to see their reactions.”

Kallhof plans to continue using his passion to make the world a brighter—much brighter—place, painting the sky one night at a time.

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