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
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