It is not easy raising funds for a summer signature event. Tonight's fireworks will be the biggest display Ocean Park spectators have ever seen. That is the way it is every year.

Bigger and better than ever is the game plan, according to David Kelsen of CR Pyro, the Middleton company that is responsible for the show. He makes a living doing aerial explosions.

For those who raise funds for the show, topping the previous spectacle each year is becoming more and more challenging.

The biggest show for Ken Davey, president of the Oak Bluffs Firemen's Civic Association isn't in the air tonight - it's behind the scenes, where the funding comes together. Mr. Davey and his volunteers have been working since the end of the fireworks a year ago to put together the $20,000 needed for tonight's program.

Mr. Davey would like spectators at tonight's big event to think more about becoming a sponsor. A couple of dollars is all that is needed from a few more people to guarantee continued success for another year. Thousands of people will observe the show tonight.

"You know, it gets harder and harder every year to get people to put dollars in the bucket. We don't get half the numbers we used to get in the past," Mr. Davey said.

All the members of the Oak Bluffs volunteer fire department know that people love the fireworks. They'll be out tonight helping with the movement of visitors. They know the applause is always generous and the thanks are heartfelt. Mr. Davey said his crew's year-long efforts aren't just about putting on a big boom. Last year the civic association set aside $4,000 in college scholarships for regional high school seniors. They donated money to churches and people in need at Christmas time. "Now we are sponsoring a Boy Scout troop in Oak Bluffs. We started that last year," Mr. Davey said. Some of the money was given to firefighters who had encountered financial difficulty because of illness.

To meet their fund-raising goals, Mr. Davey said, they sell T-shirts and solicit funds from a fire truck on Circuit avenue all summer. Mr. Davey said the sale of T-shirts was slow at the start of this summer. "We were off in fundraising. The weather didn't help. We were off until about two weeks ago, when the weather got better," Mr. Davey said.

As much as 40 per cent of next year's funds will be raised from contributions made tonight, at the scene of the show. Mr. Davey said the firefighters are hoping the community will respond generously.

The program begins at Ocean Park with the Vineyard Haven Band playing. Then comes the sunset. The fireworks start when the very last bit of twilight surrenders to darkness.

Mr. Kelsen said this will be his company's 28th year of putting on the fireworks. The company was started by Carmon Rozzi. A new company, CR Pyro, was started in 1991. "There have been five generations shooting the fireworks in Oak Bluffs," Mr. Kelsen said.

His company has been doing fireworks from the Vineyard all the way up to Bangor, Me. This show is unusual in that the company uses both a barge and the beach as staging areas for the fireworks. More and more communities are having fireworks shot off from barges, Mr. Kelsen said.

In traditional fashion, the show will begin with what are called the fence pieces, ground-based sculptures of light and smoke. There will be spinning wheels.

Anthony Rozzi, 47, will carry the familiar giant puppet depicting a drunk with a bottle of wine. There are traditions within a tradition, and nobody handles the drunk better than Mr. Rozzi.

There will be a false finish. Mr. Kelsen said that the loyal followers of the fireworks have come to count on that false finish. And at the very finish, the technicians involved in the show will wave their red flares at the audience.

Mr. Kelsen said the flares aren't used as much any more. The fireworks are shot off electronically. "We use the red flares as backup," he said.

Mr. Kelsen said he and his family are planning to put on a bigger show than last year. The company buys all of the fireworks "off the shelf"; they no longer do any assembly. "It is all imported." As many as 17 people are involved in the setup, which began weeks ago.

Tonight there will be explosions high in the sky that resemble rings, hearts and bow ties.

Mr. Kelsen said the Department of Homeland Security has new rules which make his work harder. "They've increased the hassles about storage. They come down on the people who do things legally. We are not the ones to come down on. It is just more hurdles," he said.

If there a secret to a good show, Mr. Kelsen offers these thoughts. "It is all about building momentum. We start out slow. By the time there is a finale we are doing pretty good. It is intense."

Of the Oak Bluffs firemen, Mr. Kelsen said: "They are the best crew we've ever worked for."