After reading the posts of some of the other people that I crewed a fireworks show with on the 4th of July I thought I might detail some of my own thoughts on the experience.
Greg, our fearless leader and pyro dealer, kept a running blog of the events as the show was prepared so I feel no need to go over them again.(Entry 1, 2, 3) Mine will be an account of what goes through my head after all the prep work is done and the show is about to begin.
So you’ve just spent 8 hours digging, shoveling, holding, burying, loading, and rubber-banding the nearly 400 four and five inch mortar tubes that are the show. You’ve rehearsed and re-rehearsed the safety procedures for lighting off these very large guns. You feel ready, or as ready as you’re going to be.
During the practice routines and though out the day there are times where you notice how out of shape you are. During the trial lighting where you are on one knee slowly crawling across the ground, staying low, you might notice a bit of fatigue. But the fatigue disappears when the adrenaline kicks in. From the time the starting volley is lit and the concussion of the first mortars kicks you the chest, you could run a marathon. I caught myself this year hopping in place for a little while, carefully watching the lighter before me, waiting for when Greg called for the next rotation of lighter.
Your pulse is quickened and you are breathing fast, the smell of spent fuse and the smoke from the lift charges is blowing past you as you wait. You have your earplugs in to save you from the deafening explosions and at the same time the plugs lock you into your own head where your skull amplifies the pounding of your heart and your heavy breathing.
You are waved in by the show Operator, in this case Greg; he is overseeing you and your partner, while determining the pace of the show and the overall safety of the entire environment, no small task. You rotate in behind the person currently lighting, occasionally brushing any falling embers off the fireman’s coat they are wearing. You are also wearing a fireman’s coat or “turn-out”. In my case the coat was pretty tight, by no means unworkable, but all I cared about was its ability to keep me from catching fire. After watching the back of your partner for a period of time they rotate out passing you the flare. You stay low, catching your breath as you take the first breath of the strong smoke coming off the flare.
Grab the cap, pull the cap, light the fuse, repeat. You have to move pretty quickly down the line to keep the mortars firing and the pace of the show up. Time slows while you light the fuses, nothing seems fast enough and sometimes the fuses just don’t want to cooperate.
At the end of each fuse is a timed fuse. It burns at about 1 foot per minute (which gives you 3-4 seconds) before it hits the quick match (which burns at 60ft per second) and just disappears down the tube igniting the 1/4 stick of dynamite that launches the mortar into the air at about 200 miles per hour. All of this occurs 18 inches from your head.
So when the timer fuses just don’t want to light it adds some stress to the lighting. Each pause between lights seems to take forever and then when you come out of the pause you find yourself grabbing two or three caps and lighting them to catch up with the time you lost.
All the while the smoke is nearly totally obscuring the air above you, filling your mask on occasion, while your partner is patting you on the back or making sweeping strokes from side to side. This indicates the strong likelihood that you might be on fire. But that’s what your partner is there for, to put you out.
And so it goes until the last shell is launched and the finale has played out. By this time you have pulled back far enough from the line to look up into the sky and see it utterly full to the edges of your peripheral vision with the fireworks you have just been lighting but unable to look up and see.
The last of the sparks goes out and the bits of shrapnel are still falling from the sky, the embers are glowing on the ground, and if you take your earplugs out in time you can hear the whole town cheering. They scream, whistle, clap, honk, hoot, and holler. The whole time you were lighting the show you forgot about them, the people you were there to entertain. But they didn’t matter at the time. Only grabbing the cap, pulling the cap, lighting the fuse, and repeating mattered. If you got that right then they got a good show.
It was a great show.
Thanks to Greg for having me and it was great to work with everyone else on the crew. I hope to see everyone next year!