Fireworks - My Hobby

Upper Sandusky Travel Blog

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A couple TB friends have asked about my hobby - pyrotechnician!  Well, let me try to explain!  I set up and shoot the beautiful fireworks you see that light up the sky!  Several years ago, I began an association with a guy who sold the fireworks to our local Chamber of Commerce.  I'm also on the local fire department whose members have set up and shot the local Independence Day display.  Once I met Jon, I first began as his assistant and have since hired my own crew, became a licensed shooter, and work long hours for the enjoyment of hearing people appreciate the light show in the sky!

Every year, an Ohio based shooter, depending on state regulations, must have a background check and fingerprints taken, take a test for licensing or continuing education if previously licensed, and demonstrate the safe usage of these explosives.

My Helper and I Discuss The Set Up
  The new rules and regulations as set forth by the State Fire Marshall's office must be reviewed.  I also took the various tests to receive my commercial driver's license with haz mat endorsement.  My work begins as I propose displays to communities and events.  Once the contract is signed, my focus is then directed to lining up my helpers and assistants.  The number of people needed depends on each individual show.  The more product (shells) there are, the more set up is required.  These assistants or helpers must also have a background check and fingerprinting done by the state of Ohio and receive a helper's license.  The rest of the training is left up to me.  Usually I have excellent helpers that work with me from year to year.
3" Shell
  Occasionally, someone new will be added.  Those helpers, my wife, my daughter and son-in-law, and several fellow firefighters, will discuss show set up and dates needed.  If any training is necessary, it is better done before the actual date of the show. 

Once all the preliminary work is completed, it is time to load my trailer with the needed supplies.  I have a box type trailer I pull behind my pickup truck to each show.  Inside, I have several boxes with tools (hammers, pry bars, duct tape, etc.), two or three pop up style shelters (good for sun or rain), and a generator with lights (needed for clean up after the show).  A couple other boxes contain safety helmets and goggles, and dark cotton clothing.

8" Mortars Have To Be Buried or Secured Safely
  Depending on where the show is set up, there may be rakes, shovels, leaf blower, brooms, etc. needed for cleaning up the site after the show is over.   Also, folding chairs and a cot are handy for taking short breaks, and a bicycle is handy for those necessary runs that may be far away.  The trailer is usually pretty full by the time I pull away from home.

Work at show sites usually begins at daybreak.  The truck or trucks will arrive on site full of mortar tubes and product.  It is much cooler in the morning for unloading, lifting and assembling mortar racks.   Building the racks takes several hours.  Each must be placed and stabilized for safety. Since we are working in areas with no shade, those pop up shelters come in handy!  By midday, product is normally unloaded from boxes and placed on the mortar racks.

Racks Ready To Be Shot - Different Colors Designate The Size of the Shell
  Each shell is lowered into the mortar tube, and the wire secured to the rack.  The wire is then attached to a fire box and assigned a number.  Every shell, which is fired electronically or by computer, must be covered with foil.  This is especially important if inclement weather may be a problem or the shells may be in close proximity to other sets of mortars.  The whole set up may be covered in heavy plastic, again if rain is possible. 

Once all the shells have been loaded and wired to the firebox, another wire must be run from the firebox to the main control center.  The center is usually set up in the area, but a safe distance from the mortars.  Care must be taken once the wires are connected to the main not to step on any wire running along the ground.

Firebox all wired. Neat Job!
  Depending on the show, there may be a pod(s) for "cake boxes" which are several firework effects not quite as explosive as the shells shot from the mortars.  These cakes produce a "ground" display (meaning the shells do not go as high as the individual shells) and add dramatic lights and sound to a show, and will have several wires running to the control center. 

About an hour prior to the show, a continuity check is performed.  By this time, all workers should have everything wired and ready to go.  This test is important since it will show any wiring problems.  If problems occur, helpers will then go back to square one, check wiring from the shell to the firebox to the control center.  This step may take several tries and hopefully completed with some time to stash all unnecessary items in the trailer.

Thinking this through
  Vehicles will be driven to a safe distance away from the set up.  The jurisdiction responsible for safety (usually the local fire department) will double and triple check the setup to make sure everyone including workers will be safe.  I will assign duties to my workers such as operating fire extinguishers and watching for shells that may go up in the air, but not open.  These shells, if any, will be dealt with after the show. 

Now it is a waiting game.  Some shows are coordinated with the local radio station to music.  A countdown to show time begins, and excitement builds.  We may work a couple days on set up for a 30 minute show.  Conditions are usually poor - located in remote areas, buggy, hot, and dirty.

Orchestrating the hand firing
  Adrenaline starts pumping as show time draws near.  No matter how tired, hot, and sweaty you may be, the excitement of a successful show wipes away the long days work. 

As the show begins, I work behind the control panel or box.  I press the buttons connected to the wires and fire the shells.  One helper is assigned a watch making sure I pace myself for the duration of the show.  Most of us wear some sort of light attached to a hat or around our head.  Most shows are between 20 and 30 minutes in length.  Those fired by computer are the easiest.  One button shoots and sets the pace for the whole show.  There are also hand fired shows, usually small in numbers.  Each helper is clothed in dark all cotton clothing, safety helmet and glasses, and given a fusee to hand light the fuse.

End Results!
  The fuse is lit (these are not connected to a firebox), and you duck!  It is such a "rush" to orchestrate a show.  The shooter doesn't get to watch the show, but is instead watching the action, calling out orders, and making sure all stay out of the fire area.  Hearing the applause and shouts of the crowd make the work all worth it at the end of the show!

After a specified length of time to allow the area to "cool" down, myself and the workers examine the mortar tubes and boxes looking for shells that may not have gone up.  These will be handled very carefully and boxed for return to the company.  The tubes will be cleaned, disassembled, and loaded on the truck for use next time.  All garbage in the area will be cleaned up and disposed.

Control Panel
  One person will walk the entire "fallout" area looking for shells that may not have opened.  I try to leave the area just as I found it in the morning.  Since we are working into the early morning hours, I will return to the site at first light the next day to once again walk the area and make sure it is clear of anything dangerous. 

The popularity of shows around the Fourth of July usually finds me and my crew on the road to the next show very early in the morning - sometimes with only a few hours sleep.  It is hard work and long hours, but very rewarding!  Communication between my crew and others is important for swapping equipment and trucks.  I appreciate the time my crew gives up around the holiday just to help me!  It isn't all work, as we have fun during lunch breaks and waiting times.

One Leaving the Mortar
  We sleep whenever possible. 

shirlan says:
Hows things going for this years firework display.
Posted on: Jun 05, 2008
RobtheTraveler says:
That's awesome. I love shooting pyro displays.
Posted on: May 20, 2008
pinkjule says:
WOW!!! Bill, thank you for sharing I had no idea!! I only thought about the end result!! Very interesting!! You are the Fireboss!! I look forward to them every year!!
Posted on: Apr 14, 2008
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Our Shirts
Our Shirts
My Helper and I Discuss The Set Up
My Helper and I Discuss The Set Up
3 Shell
3" Shell
8 Mortars Have To Be Buried or Se…
8" Mortars Have To Be Buried or S…
Racks Ready To Be Shot - Different…
Racks Ready To Be Shot - Differen…
Firebox all wired.  Neat Job!
Firebox all wired. Neat Job!
Thinking this through
Thinking this through
Orchestrating the hand firing
Orchestrating the hand firing
End Results!
End Results!
Control Panel
Control Panel
One Leaving the Mortar
One Leaving the Mortar
Lesley, one of my expert crew memb…
Lesley, one of my expert crew mem…
Racks of 4 Shells Ready to Fire
Racks of 4" Shells Ready to Fire
Looking down the mortar - I wouldn…
Looking down the mortar - I would…
Notice the different colors design…
Notice the different colors desig…
Cake Boxes Wired For Ground Show
Cake Boxes Wired For Ground Show
Lesley works on the cakes
Lesley works on the cakes
5 Shells
5" Shells
The crew talks things over with th…
The crew talks things over with t…
Working together on the set up.
Working together on the set up.
Show in Upper Sandusky is ready to…
Show in Upper Sandusky is ready t…
Here are the results of our day lo…
Here are the results of our day l…
Lesley and I firing the show.
Lesley and I firing the show.
Cakes going off
Cakes going off
There goes another one!
There goes another one!
There goes one!
There goes one!
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