After the thrill is gone

Published on 11 October 2003 in Gratitude (Please wait)

The Fourth of July in the United States is always a busy day. For most people, it’s a day filled with barbeques and sunscreen, lawn chairs and parades, maybe a trip to the beach or playing in the pool. Not for me. Not for my friends.

You see, we’re the pyro crew. All those fireworks you see later that night are set up by groups of people like us.

It’s a long, hot day for a pyro crew. Even if we work on or near the water, it gets hot. For our particular crew, though, we’re stuck in the middle of a very dry and dusty area. The sun beats down all day long. Hats, sunscreen, many bottles of water, and gallons of sweat are what color our day.

Add to all of that the danger of working with explosives and you have a day that goes on and on and on.

However, the crew is special. We like each other. We have a good time and know how to laugh. We know when it’s okay to goof around and when it’s time to hustle our buns. These are all people I love and respect. These are my friends. There is no other group I’d want to work with when it comes to a job like this. All meticulous, careful, and detail-oriented people. All of us have safety as our number one priority while we work.

Later, after the racks are assembled, the bombs dropped in the guns, the wiring completed, and the racks foiled, we take time to eat a nice little dinner, wash up, and then run a test on our board.

With everything in place, we change into long pants and grab jackets. A couple of the guys pull on their turn-outs. They’re firemen, you see. These guys are the ones who’ll be doing the hardest job of all. They’ll be the ones out there, hand lighting the bulk of the show. Only the finale is electric.

Darkness falls and we all take our places. Those of us not running the board or doing the hand firing man the perimeter of the site. I have my flashlight and the camera.

Spread out, you can’t hear the oohs and aahs from your friends, but you can hear the crowd up on the hill. It’s gratifying to know that all your sweat and the aching muscles went into something that brings such joy to others. It’s the greatest reward of all. To hear the crowd cheering because of what we’ve assembled. It makes it all worthwhile for us.

Once the show is over, the guys who hand fired run a quick check and make sure everything’s been launched. No live bombs are to be left in the guns. If need be, they’ll fire them off or dump them into a bucket of water.

When the rest of us get the “all clear,” we begin our sweep of the site. We check for duds or live rounds that may not have done more than come out of one of the guns and are lying in the dirt, waiting to be discovered. Tough to accomplish in the dark. Even with the flashlights.

We still have to clean up the debris from the fireworks. Let me tell you, those things produce a lot of very small pieces and, again, in the dark, it’s difficult to detect everything. But, we take pride in cleaning our site well. That’s why we get asked back again and again.

The racks of the guns are disassembled and loaded back into the truck. The racks seem to have gained weight as they’ve sat in the sun all day. We finish raking up the site of the final debris and we load that onto the truck as well.

The very last to be loaded is the table with the firing board from the finale. That’s what you see there in the photo. In the bottom right corner you can see some of the larger pieces of trash we collect after the show. You can also see the flares the guys use to hand fire the show. The safety gear, again, is essential to all that we do when we put on a show. Other than sore muscles, sunburns, and a random bee sting, there’ve been no injuries during a single show. Not with our crew.

After the thrill is gone, there’s still an incredible amount of hard work that goes on for that fireworks show you see each year. Next year you’ll have a little better idea of what’s involved in putting on a pyro display. And, maybe, maybe you’ll cheer and ooh and aah a little louder so those of us down in the middle of the explosions can hear you.

Da Goddess (San Diego, CA, USA)

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