In April of 2013, Pyrotechnic Innovations entered into an agreement with Pyro Spectaculars to officially join forces. Pyro Innovations now exclusively provides all crew and training resources to Pyro Spectaculars. This is the culmination of many hours of work building and up keeping the Pyro Innovations website, and working with Pyro Spectaculars to tailor something that would be mutually beneficial. Pyro Innovations will begin expanding its online fireworks training section, in addition to working with Pyro Spectaculars to create a streamlined fireworks training program for crew and all prospective operators. This collaboration provides a means to take both companies to the next level through a more standardized training program and significantly increasing the number of licensed operators available to shoot displays for Pyro Spectaculars. This will be an exciting new chapter for Pyrotechnic Innovations!
The hundreds of hours that went into creating our new “Online Fireworks Training” pages was well worth it. It has had a tremendous impact on the amount of time needed teaching new people at shows. The 4th of July was a great example. This 4th of July was at a new show site for us this year, which means the operator (me) has many logistical matters to take care of, a new customer to build relations with, along with the added time and effort needed for the more advanced setup of set pieces and the “Niagra Falls” effect. This meant I couldn’t spend a great amount of time training new people. It so happened, that this year, our crew consisted of 75% “noobs”. After making it manditory for first timers to go through all of our fireworks training pages before coming out, it turned a full day of training and babysitting into just a few minutes of watching them demonstrate thier skills to myself or an experienced crew member as they went along from task to task. It was like they had already worked numerous shows. I plan to keep updating and expanding the training pages, hopefully to encompass a broader spectrum of fireworks display setup. I highly recommend other operators to direct thier new people here, it has been such a great help to me (even more than I predicted!).
A common misconception when someone orders a show is that they are ordering fireworks. The display company does not sell you fireworks, they sell you a show. They sell you a show that will last X amount of time, or cost X amount of dollars. A lot of people ask me, how much will each firework cost? Nothing. You are not buying fireworks, you are buying a show. If there is a shell or two that misfires, the customer does not get a refund for those since they were not sold individual shells, they were sold a show. Remember, you are buying a service, not individual products. As a customer you receive the following:
- Assitance with obtaining all neccessary permits to fire your display
- A friendly show producer to work with you in customizing your display
- An experienced operator (me!) to setup and fire your display with the utmost professionalism in mind
- Satisfaction that only comes from a well executed and memorable event
See our page on how to order a fireworks display for your event.
These are some questions that I receive frequently through email from High School students:
- How did you get into this “career”? I have always been fascinated with pyrotechnics, even since I was a small child. 4th of July was of course my favorite holiday and couldn’t wait to get to the fireworks stand. Once I was old enough to start working crews, I would try to get close enough to the operators during a local fireworks display to ask questions while they were setting up. Of course the main question asked was, “How do I get into the fireworks industry?”. I soon ended up training with various operators through Rialto based Pyro Spectaculars. I received my pyrotechnic operators license two weeks after my 21st birthday and shot my first 4th of July show (as the operator) a week or two later.
- What is a typical day on the job? See: http://www.pyroinnovations.com/becomecrew.html
- What is the average salary? That depends on which company you work for. Each company will give you a percentage of the show cost. So the bigger the show, the more money you are compensated. There are no “averages” since each show can differ drastically in size. Before you get licensed, and you are working on a crew, the pay is up to the operator. Usually the smaller shows are just volunteer. Read: http://www.pyroinnovations.com/blog1/2007/01/16/will-i-get-paid-if-so-how-much/ for more information on how often and how much the crew gets paid.
- How dangerous can the job be? This job is as safe as you make it. If you follow all the state, federal, and local fire authority’s guidlines and laws, and you use common sense, the job is very safe. We wear full protective gear when firing each display, such as hardhats, eye protection, fire retardent clothing, etc…
- What is the most dangerous situation you have encountered? As stated in the previous question, follow the rules, use common sense, and it will keep you safe. You will get “low breaks” once in a while (where the shell goes off a few feet out of the mortar) or similar malfunctions, but the crew being fully protected, and the audience kept at the minimum safe distance, no one is injured and the show continuous as if nothing happend.
- How can a young adult get involved with this “career”? Your best bet is to contact you local fire authority and ask for a list of the local fireworks display companies. These companies are who you get your training through. And of course if you live in the Southern California region, you can potentially be trained on my crew. See: http://www.pyroinnovations.com/becomecrew2.html
- What do you like best about your “career”? Since I am an Engineer, I enjoy the technical side of pyrotechnics. This is of course in addition to the adrenaline rush you get during the show and the cheer of the audience at the end. It gives you a great feeling of accomplishment.
- What do you dislike about your “career”? The amount of driving can be a pain sometimes. But when you like what your doing as much as I do, then it really doesn’t matter.
- What personal characteristics do you believe are important on the job? You need to be professional when working with explosives. There is alot of responsibilty that comes with this job. It wouldn’t instill alot of confidence in your customer or fire inspector if you are playing catch with the aerial shells (not to mention it would be very dangerous!). A technical background is not required to do this job, but would be good to have, especially for the larger, more advanced shows. You can’t be lazy either, as it is alot of hard work in some cases. You need to be disciplined as well, so you don’t slack on any of the legal requirements of being an operator, including your commercial driving laws.
- How much job security is there in your field? Unless you are a full time show producer or sales rep, it’s not a career at all. As an operator, I work as an independent contractor and only shoot displays when they are given to me. There is always a show on the 4th, but during the off season, it’s not really a job, more of a hobby you get to do once in a while. I will typically shoot around 30 shows a year.
- What are the biggest challenges in your job? Sometimes there can be stress associated with your show depending on the logistics, and how helpful the customer and fire inspector are. As far as the operator goes, work for him does not start the day of the show; it starts days or even weeks ahead of time. Putting together a crew and making sure they have all neccessary information, arranging meetings with the customer, fire inspector, and audio technicians. Depending on the show, he may also have to put together a script and rack layout. These are all time consuming tasks.
- Do you travel much while working? Yes and no. There is generally an area you work, typically within a hundred miles of your residence. Once in a while you might get to travel out of state (or country) to shoot shows, although this again depends on the company you work for and your level of experience.
- What are some suggested classes to take in High School and College to help in training to become a Pyrotechnician? See: http://www.pyroinnovations.com/blog1/2006/09/29/what-education-is-needed-to-become-a-pyrotechnician/
- Some additional information can be found on my Salary Stories interview at: http://blogs.payscale.com/salarystories/2007/04/pyrotechnician_.html
This is a question I receive quite frequently from some of the newer crew members; I will answer it in two parts. Keep in mind that the operator receives a certain percentage of the show, which goes towards not only the operator’s compensation, but also supplies he needs to purchase, food, snacks, and water for the crew, and then paying his/her crew if possible. The operator will typically take a much larger portion than each of the crew receives. Why? Aside from his greater experience, there are a lot of things that the operator does that are transparent to the crew, such as dealing with the customer, fire inspector, audio technicians, and show producer on multiple occasions days and weeks before the show, having meetings at the show site prior to the show date, drawing up layouts and/or scripts(if not provided), putting together a crew, among many other time consuming logistics. This is all in addition to driving to the plant to pick up the show, filling out tons and tons of paperwork before and after each show, knowing the laws to the point of complete memorization, and having a lot of legal liability on his/her shoulders.
As a crew member, will I get Paid? This depends on two things. How big the show is (which in turn determines the operators compensation), and the number of crew. If the show is not that big and there is a large crew, then it’s not very practical to pay everyone. This is the case for 95% of my shows since we conduct training with a large number of people at each display. Those shows are just volunteer with a free lunch. Most crew come out since they get to shoot fireworks, and/or they need training and a recommendation letter for their pyrotechnics license anyways.
Once it’s determined we will get paid, How much will I get? This is determined by a number of things. First off, as operator, I take a percentage (of the percentage given to me for the show) to compensate myself. I pay the crew on an individual basis based on your experience, how hard you work, and of course within the limits of the budget. I consider an experienced crew member to be able to do any task given to him/her, and be able to run the entire setup/show on their own if needed. In other words, they would be able to handle a variety of tasks such as rack placement, shell addressing, running continuity checks with any type of firing system, or anything else that may come up during a show. A new person (a “newb”) would not know what to do next, and would find themselves standing around waiting for instructions, and would have to be shown each step. In addition to your experience, your hard work counts for a lot. I have often paid new people more than someone with much more experience in the past, because they go out and work 10 times harder. Someone who shows initiative is very valuable to the crew. If you have worked 30 shows, but still have to wait after each task to be told what to do next, you end up being fairly useless to the crew. If you have shot 30 shows, but never show initiative to learn everything about the setup, such as running continuity checks, firing the display, coordinating with audio technicians, debbuging the different types of firing systems, then you become a permanent “newb”, as your knowledge does not increase as time goes on. As with any other job, everything is taken into consideration when pay is being determined.
If you are coming out to work a show because you are looking for a paycheck, then you’re there for the wrong reason and will not be asked back on the crew (if you are even allowed to come out in the first place). I choose crew based upon their motivation and passion for fireworks, their willingness to constantly improve their knowledge and skill in the field, and their dedication to our crew. In exchange, you will get training by expert pyrotechnicians, letters of recommendation for your State License, guidence to obtaining your pyrotechnics license so that you can run your own shows, and lets not forget, you will get to shoot fireworks!
Everyone, we have been working on some great new updates for the pyroinnovations.com website. The look of the website is being completely re-done, along with tons of new pages added. These new pages will contain lots of new information and of course more free videos. The new website will incorporate some unique information that is available no where else on the web. The new website will be released sometime late January. Make sure you check back to see if its been published!
You never can tell who is going to be able to remain calm during the “heat of battle”. Everytime I shoot a show where the show start time is determined by the customer, usually announced to myself over a radio, I always wonder how the customer will end up announcing it. I always give pretty clear instructions beforehand on how to cue us to fire so that there are no misunderstandings. The best way I have found is to say, “Pyro, Fire, Fire, Fire” over the radio in a very distinct, slowly spoken, clear voice. Usually at a show, the customer will be coordinating numerous activities and not just the fireworks cue. Because of this, he/she is usually overwhelmed with the coordination of all these activities and fails to announce clearly the pre-designated phrase. I have all to often heard the entire phrase blurred together in under a second. I have also heard, “GO, GO, GO!”, which has no words even resembling fire, pyro, or fireworks, which of course I’m suppossed to interpret as the fireworks? Sometimes for a homecoming show, the customer will just tell you, “when you hear the homecoming queen’s name announced, that’s when you fire.” In most cases, that’s not a problem, but I did have one instance where there was such an echo in the stadium that all we heard over the loudspeaker was, “gheiadn adiwgthe adiheahesf ahhwsfhfff fhedahsdfh…” We then heard, “wosefn wsefiondsf queen oiwsefohisd” and then alot of cheers, but it ended up being the announcement of last years queen. Lucky for us, my pyro instinct told me to wait. Why is all of this important? Well, since the fireworks are usually a fairly important part of the event, something which typically isn’t started, stopped, and started again, you want to make sure you start the show at the right moment. Of course if you fire on the wrong command (because nothing is being said slowly and clearly), it’s always your fault. Fortunately for my crew and I, we have nailed it right on the head each time (a couple of which were lucky guesses, like the homecoming example given above), and knock on wood will continue this tradition!
Tis that time of year. Football, fancy cars, kings and queens, and of course, the halftime fireworks display. Yep, you guessed it, high school and college homecoming football games. Some operators are not very fond of homecoming shows. They are small, you still have to drive significant distances, and your lucky if you make enough to cover gas in your vehicle. However, I enjoy homecoming shows for a few reasons. One, they are small. It’s a good break from the 26 hour bust your behind days setting up the big shows. Two, they are a good time to train new crew. The setups might take 30 minutes to at most 2 hours for your average homecoming show. This gives way to you being able to take your time during setup and answer all the questions the new people might have. These shows are not very labor intensive due to thier size. Although the shows are small, you usually get quite a few of them during the October/November season, and this still ads to your experience. No matter how big the show is, there is always something new to learn. So in the end, you still get your pyro fix without all the usual hard work that goes into the bigger shows.
I get tons of emails asking what classes should be taken if you are interested in becoming a Pyrotechnician. There is no specific answer to this question. The best subjects to take are science and mathematics. There are no classes specifically geared towards pyrotechnics. Continue on this track once you reach college by majoring in science (physics or chemistry) or engineering (mechanical, chemical, electrical or aerospace) if you want to fully understand what your dealing with. Keep in mind, you don’t technically need this background if you want to become a licensed operator. Depending on which state you live in, there are different requirements to obtain a license. I have more information on this at my website: www.pyroinnovations.com Check out the “how to become licensed” pages.
This is a question I receive quite often through email. The answer is: it depends. Ask yourself these questions:
1) Do I have the time (alot) it will take to actually build one?
2) Assuming I have schematics to a trust worthy design, do I have the neccessary soldering/fabrication skills needed?
3) Am I willing to spend the money to purchase all the components and hardware?
4) Why do I want my own system?
Now, a little explaination on each of the questions. For number one, yes, it takes an enormous amount of time to fabricate a firing system. We are talking about your average 400 cue analog firing system. Think about it. That is a minimum of 400 wires you will have to solder. Depending on the type of system, it could be double the number of cues you have. That doesn’t even include the drilling, mounting, painting, etc. that might also be involved. Number two is pretty self explanitory. First make sure you have a schematic of good value. If you don’t have a sound design, very bad things can happen. Also, if you don’t know how to solder properly, your solder joints will be inadequate, which will lower the life of your system, as well as add unneccessary resistance to it. Three, they can get expensive when all is said and done. The most expensive part is purchasing all of your own firing cables. Four, do you really need your own system when most display companies provide you with a system for your show? I built mine for a couple reasons. One, I’m an engineer, so we always think we can come up with something one step better. We are always trying to improve stuff [doesn't always turn out that way :)]. It also adds to the satisfaction of accomplishment at the end of a show. So, take all of these issues into consideration when planning to build your own system.