Professional Fireworks Up Close & Personal
Greenville, SC
By: Jaden
06 August 2008

NOTE: Do not attempt to use fireworks or any other explosives unless you are properly trained. You can easily get yourself or somebody else seriously hurt or killed! Even static electricity can cause them to detonate.

Here we are in Upstate South Carolina getting ready for the 4th of July. I was invited to join a pyrotechnics crew down here. Typically it’s rather hard to get on a crew and even Sierra said “You don’t get invited to join a fireworks crew”. Well, I did. ? The kicker here is this company is the one that does the 4th of July show on the Mall in Washington DC!! Yea, big time company. www.pyroshows.com

If you saw the shows by the Greenville in town Airport or by the Gov’t center in Greenville, those were ours.

This crew of 5 has two simultaneous shows to shoot on the 4th. We’ve been on site since Tuesday and the show is Friday. Yea, it takes that long to set up these shows. Here’s some pics of the bigger show by the airport. This show is going to be choreographed to a soundtrack, which will be broadcast over the radio. Therefore we have to set it up according to a specification sheet. We are firing it electrically, which is safer than hand firing. Electric firing is necessary for choreography. We set the mortars up in “cues” and each one has a number designation. As each cue comes up on the sound track whoever is shooting simply hits that button on the firing board and away it goes. The people who designed the show to fit the sound track have done the hard work of figuring in any delays in the fuses and flight time so that once the shell launches, it reaches altitude and bursts at the right time. This show is supposed to last just under 15 minutes and will be filmed by helicopter. It is the biggest show in Greenville.

The pyro crew

me with a HUGE pile of rice cakes. There’s more you can’t see. Me with a special12” shell, which will fire after the finale’

This last shell isn’t Chinese it’s Spanish. Considering it’s extremely unique to the rest and it will burst in to an awesome display we called it “The Brave”. Why? How does the Star Spangled Banner end?

The boxes I’m leaning on contain 25 3” shells in mortars and will fire for 30 seconds. Some of these will be in the finale’. Some are all color while others are Titanium Salutes, which will make *some* noise. He he. There will be several other shells such as 8, 10 & 12” going up at the same time also.

Racks of mortars- 4, 5 & 6 inch-----------------------8,10 &12inch tubes-------------------------------This 53’ trailer was packed full

12” mortars------------------------------------------Nailing together racks-------------------------------------Shade break

8, 10 & 12”-----------------------------Loading a 12-----------------------------------------“The Brave”

The Brave loaded and ready

Once we had the 8, 10 & 12” mortars in the sand boxes and all of the 4, 5 & 6” racks in position it was time to start dropping shells. That’s slang for loading shells in to the mortar tubes. The electric match is what ignites the fuse. For liability reasons I won’t show how to actually connect the match to the fuse. DON’T try it!! This is extremely dangerous!

Inserting the electric match-----------------------4 & 5” mortars--------------------------------Electric match

The middle picture shows four 5” diameter mortars in the back and five 4” diameter ones in the front. Rigging the electric matches is a very dangerous part of the job. The slightest spark or screw up can ignite the fuse and launch every shell in the string before you can blink an eye. This is why we never rig matches with shells outside of a mortar. At least if something goes bad, they’ll fly and not explode on the ground.

Main fuse capped----------------------------Main fuse with a quick connect and hand fire cap-----------------------Electric match

The quick connects on these things are junk so rigging these up fast and easy did not happen. On 98% of them, we had to connect the electric match the time consuming way.

Rigging 6” fuses----------------------------------Towel head (it was HOT)-----------------------------Moisture barrier

While spending a good couple of hours rigging electric matches we were trying to entertain ourselves and started quoting lines from movies. Somehow we got on the subject of Hee Haw and then we started singing the Hee Haw song. “Where oh where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love, you found another and (insert proper spitting sound) you were gone”. Boss man was over by the tractor trailer and he stopped walking, turned around and said “I need a video of that”……oh yea….I can see it on YouTube now. A pyro crew singing Hee Haw while cutting in to quick match.

After all of the electric match was rigged it was time to wire the show. The yellow and black toolboxes are junction boxes. Every single cue comes back to a specific terminal block. The junction boxes connect to the firing board.

Junction boxes in place and wired

Circuit checks-------------------------------------------Rigging electric matches

3” rice cake-------------------------------------All done

On Thursday while we were working on the bigger show, a news crew arrived and got fire marshal approval to take some close up footage and do a couple of interviews. We made the news that night. Saturday morning there was a picture of the smaller show’s finale’ on the front page.

About 1.5 hours before show time it opened up and poured. It’s a good thing we planned ahead and had everything weather proofed.

All in all everything was a success. We had a few duds, but the good news is none were out fault. All failures were in the pre-strung quick match.

Pyrotechnics produces a lot of fallout. We had put in 12 & 14 hour days and then a 21 hour day on the 4th. After the show when everybody else goes home or to parties, we stay on site to clear the mortars, tear everything apart, reload the truck and clean up the fall out. We didn’t get back to the hotel until 0400, slept for a few hours and then went back to the airport to finish cleaning up.

All of that time spent for shows we didn’t get to see. The crew doesn’t get to watch the show. During choreography it’s imperative that every cue is fired at a certain time so one person is pulling switches while another one is counting the cue. Boss man and me fired the smaller show at the government center. Once in awhile we were able to look up for a couple of seconds and see something. I was busy watching the watch and every 11 seconds I’d count down 3, 2, 1, FIRE!! and start over again. Doing that for 15 minutes is boring.

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