Guarding The Gunpowder

Youth group leader Christina Elliston holds one of the bigger packages of fireworks she has been watching over by spending the night on site since Saturday at the Victoria Street and Harbor Avenue Phantom Fireworks. She stays in a motor home borrowed from her grandparents. Sales raise money for kids from Canyon Community Church and Lighthouse Church to go to camp. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot / July 3, 2013)

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When longtime Costa Mesa resident Rob Friedmann guards a fireworks stand through the night, he sleeps lightly.

He keeps a flashlight and phone nearby in case he hears anything that could prompt him to call police or firefighters.

"I've heard horror stories of people's places getting broken into," he said.

He's had only one hair-raising experience in his 15 years of overnight volunteering to keep ne'er-do-wells away from the pyrotechnics sold by local nonprofits.

He slept in a local church during a shift his first year. Friedmann kept the windows open and drifted in and out of sleep as he tried to remain aware of any strange noises outside.

Surprisingly, the disturbance came from inside the church, when a cleaning crew woke him up.

"They clean it really early in the morning, like 3 in the morning," he said. "They opened the door and I about went to the ceiling."

Costa Mesa's municipal code requires someone to stay near — but not in — fireworks stands overnight.

During an annual training meeting, fire officials go over safety measures with volunteers, including the nighttime surveillance.

"It's safety first," said Judy Vickers, a revenue supervisor in the city's finance department, which issues the fireworks stand permits.

Friedmann, a 25-year Costa Mesa resident and president of the Costa Mesa High School baseball boosters, has become a go-to night watchman. It's his volunteer career a few nights out of the year.

He arrives before 10 p.m. when fireworks sales stop and is usually done by 8 a.m. in time to get to his day job.

He refined his methods about six years ago. These days, he pulls his 26-foot motor home as close to the stand as possible and listens for any trouble.

"A lot of people just sleep in their cars," he said. "That is not as fun, let me tell you."

This year alone, Friedmann has guarded three of the 37 stands throughout Costa Mesa.

The city authorizes a limited number of nonprofits to run the stands and collect the earnings.

Todd Cowley of the Costa Mesa American Little League said his organization has run a stand for the past four years.

Last year, it took in about $10,000 from the five days of sales allowed.

"It is probably our biggest [fundraiser]," Cowley said.

Stands in Costa Mesa can sell fireworks from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday.

A list of stand locations and the nonprofits they benefit is available on the Daily Pilot's website.