Balloon Fiesta volunteers are a major component to the event’s success. As a 25-year volunteer, Bill Brennan is familiar with all of the different facets of Balloon Fiesta—especially in his role as Chief Launch Director. Read more about Bill’s story in this month’s Inside the Basket!
Briefly explain your role and how long you
As Chief Launch Director, I have the privilege to lead the Zebras, the largest group of on-field Navigators. I am entrusted by Balloon Fiesta to conduct a safe, coordinated launch. I started crewing in 1982 after my Navy enlistment. I became a Zebra in 1991 at the suggestion of a pilot who was on our balloon team.’ve been volunteering for Balloon Fiesta.
What is one thing most guests don’t know about “Zebras?”
It takes a few years to be considered a “Trained Launch Director.” The formal training is a two-year process but since we all learn something new each year, the training never stops. Another is that not all Zebras are extroverts.
What has been your favorite experience working at Balloon Fiesta?
This is a tough question. I have so many “Favs” that it is hard to pinpoint. I love talking with first time guests to see Balloon Fiesta through their eyes and to provide them a behind-the-scenes perspective. It is fun to find out where they are from and what they think about the event. Launch Director training is also a major passion of mine. I developed a formal Zebra-in-Training (ZIT) program 10 years ago; it has been improved every year with feedback from many Zebras. The program became noticed by The Plano Balloon Festival’s officials who were looking to develop their own program. After submitting our training resources to them, they invited me to come to Texas to present a modified presentation to their Zebras. It was extremely well received and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it as I have, reluctantly, passed the training torch to other Balloon Fiesta Zebras. The launch staff threatens me with duct tape if I get out of line during the ZIT Training.
What do you enjoy most being involved with Balloon Fiesta?
Apart from all of the planning and training leading up to Balloon Fiesta, I love the Balloon-of-the-Day (BOD) launch by getting the crowd involved with the countdown. As a veteran, I am very moved by watching the Stars and Stripes rise while the Star Spangled Banner is sung from the stage. Last year, my youngest daughter got to fly with El Fonz in carrying the flag on a Special Shape day. That was special for me as Balloon Fiesta is very much a family affair. My oldest daughter was a Launch Director for 10 years and my second oldest daughter continues to launch. My wife figured, if you can’t beat them, join them, but she decided to join the scoring team, she is now the Assistant Chief Scoring Official.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved?
If you feel that you would rather be a part of the event than just watching and have that desire to do something more involved or even year round, then volunteering is the way to go. Register as a Navigator and indicate what you would like to do. The Launch Directors (LD) can only take a few new people with ballooning experience, if any, each year. Balloon Fiesta will tell me your desire to be a Launch Director and then I will send out an application. The launch staff will review all applications and recommend an invitation to be interview. After the interviews, the launch staff will decide who will become our newest Zebras-In-Training (ZITs).
What is the most fulfilling part about your volunteer work with Balloon Fiesta?
Balloon Fiesta is all about relationships with family and friends as we showcase our event to the world. During the launch it is watching the activities from the tower, knowing that the well trained and motivated Launch Directors are doing their job for a safe, coordinated launch!