The Fourth of July is a holiday in the United States full of beautiful, complicated fireworks displays. While many are sitting back and enjoying these impressive displays, firework technicians, or pyrotechnicians, are working hard behind the scenes to make everything goes smoothly. Pyrotechnicians are “responsible for the setup, safety, and successful firing of large public displays,” says Mike Tockstein, a California based pyrotechnician. Have you ever wondered how exactly these professionals create brilliant light shows or what their job actually looks like? We have the low down on the working life of a pyrotechnician to give you insight into firework display creation.
Operators vs Producers
In any New Years, Independence Day, or other firework display, there are two main types of professionals working behind the scenes, making things happen. Pyrotechnician operators are the individuals who deal with the physical setup of a display. They are the ones in charge of making sure the display goes off as it should. Coordinating with the local government and any companies involved also falls under their job description. Operators do a lot of the grunt work, but they are also usually the “shooters,” the ones who get to press the buttons to make fireworks launch. Who doesn't want to push that explosive button?
Pyrotechnician producers, on the other hand, are usually the professionals in charge of designing and planning the displays. If a client requests a fireworks display timed to music, the producer will help plan the cues and visuals to coincide with the music. If the music references stars or bright lights, the producer will likely choose a firework with a bright white color, maybe in a star shape or lots of small white explosions to go off at that moment. If it is a love song, the fireworks will likely include heart patterns and shapes. Pyrotechnician producers usually worked as operators, but who transitioned to now focus on the creative design of firework displays.
There are many different ways to pursue a love of fireworks, from amateur fireworks users all the way to licensed pyrotechnician producers.
Training, Licensing, Finding a Crew
Being a pyrotechnician operator or producer is not as simple as picking up some fireworks and setting them off. To become a pyrotechnician, you must be trained in the profession, like a plumber or electrician. Working as a pyrotechnician requires a license, which takes time to get. A license will allow you to work on fireworks displays and assemble your own crew. If you aren’t interested in getting a license and completing all the training that requires, don’t worry! Pyrotechnician operators are often looking for volunteers to work on their crews. It will take training, but working as a volunteer on a licensed pyrotechnician’s crew is a great way to try out this field before committing to getting a license yourself. It requires less time and energy and you will still get to help create stunning firework displays for people to enjoy.
A Challenging Schedule
Because firework displays are often holiday or event based, it can be hard to make a stable living as a standard pyrotechnician. If you are interested in working in the field, finding a pyrotechnic or firework production company may be the best way to get a stable paycheck. If fireworks feel like more of a hobby, you could always join a crew as a volunteer or do seasonal events on the side in combination with another more stable job.
Months of Planning
While many amateurs may casually choose which fireworks to fire at random, pyrotechnicians take their time to plan displays based on their client’s requests. If it is a shorter, less intense display, it may take less than a week to plan, says MLE Pyrotechnics, but longer and larger projects may require months to plan. It takes time to acquire all the necessary local permits and permissions based on the venue of the show. Pyrotechnicians may even design fireworks directly with their manufacturers to create new explosives specifically for a show, which adds time to the planning and preparation.
Days of Setup and Cleanup
As the event approaches, pyrotechnician operators and their team will need to begin setting up their equipment. This may start a few days beforehand if they have a lot to prepare and depending on the weather conditions, or a few hours before if there is less to setup. After the event as finished, pyrotechnicians aren't done. It will usually take a crew hours to clean everything up and get their equipment back to where it needs to be. Time, energy, and work goes into each and every fireworks display, but that’s what makes the end result so magical and impressive to experience.
Fireworks are beautiful, bright, creative displays to enjoy. If you have ever had any interest in explosions like larger scale fireworks, becoming a licensed pyrotechnician may be the job for you. The average annual salary for a pyrotechnician is $45,000 according to Shmoop. There are many different ways to pursue a love of fireworks, from amateur fireworks users all the way to licensed pyrotechnician producers. Find a crew or company that works for you and make your explosion-filled dreams come true.