The Show Behind the Curtain
June 25th, 2017 by Dianna Troyer

Fireworks are engineered to explode in various stages and patterns.An example of a  chrysanthemum.
Photo courtesy of Milan Prokes, Universal Publishing LLC

Fourth of July fireworks pyrotechnicians get their satisfaction from crowds’ oohs and aahs

Contrary to popular belief, pyrotechnicians do not always have the best seats for a fireworks show.

“You don’t even have time to look up,” says Linda Bingaman, who for years helped shoot shows manually as assistant fire chief in Carlin, Nevada. “It’s hectic and physically demanding.”

During the show, six firefighters work as an efficient team.

“Two of us fire the shells, then three reload behind us, and one person is a spotter to make sure each shell goes off,” she says. “Sometimes, one gets hung up.”

Pyrotechnicians learn to expect the unexpected.

In Rupert, Idaho, fire chief Roger Davis became a burning man one year when an ember fell on his back, setting him alight.

“A guy kept slapping me on the back,” recalls Roger. “I yelled and asked why he kept doing that. It melted part of the silver reflective stripe. It’s a dirty, hot job, so we wear our oldest turnout gear.”

Instead of shooting a show manually, West Wendover Fire Department in Nevada sets off an electronic show.

For three weeks, employees meticulously wire and check circuits for 1,100 fireworks, knowing their labor of love will go up in smoke and a kaleidoscope of colors in about 20 minutes.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you hear the applause and people cheering,” says Gary Corona, captain of the West Wendover Fire Department.
Roger says when the show ends, he hopes the crowd is satisfied.

“We want people to leave feeling like they haven’t seen anything like that before,” says Roger. “We want them to wonder what we’ll throw next year.”