Voices of Summer
(as told to David Lee Simmons)
"You know, I never went to college to sell firecrackers."
That's a joke I often make working in the world of the professional fireworks. Most people probably think that a week or so before the Fourth of July, a few guys round up some rockets, throw 'em in a box and head out to shoot off some beautiful and spectacular fireworks. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't come close to happening that way.
I entered this industry back in 1978 when I answered an ad for a sales manager's position for a fireworks display company. I quickly developed a passion for the artistic side of pyrotechnics. A few years after that, I went to work for Pyrotecnico, one of the oldest (1890s) and largest companies of its kind in the United States. That's where I still am, and nowadays I produce a few hundred shows a year, and the company does a couple of thousand.
I have been involved with many unusual circumstances over the years, but my favorite one involves the Atlanta Braves on July 4, 1985. I was down at Callaway Gardens shooting a show that didn't get shot till about 11 p.m. because of bad weather. I got back to my room at about 2 a.m. At that time they had replays of the Braves games on late at night, so I flicked on the TV. Then I realized the game was live and still going on, into something like the 18th inning, which meant that my crew had yet to fire the fireworks display.
The game finished about 4:30 a.m. and the Braves rewarded the crowd that stayed with a fantastic exhibition of fireworks. No one told the citizens of Atlanta, though, and they responded by lighting up the police switchboards, exclaiming, "We're being bombed!"
I often wonder what would have happened if I had followed my original career path of being an advertising executive. One thing is for sure: I wouldn't have been part of making millions of people smile and cheer as they watch the wonderful craft of making "art in the sky." It has been a very satisfying job.