Behind-The-Scenes of a Fireworks Show

When I try to think of 4ths of July before we moved, I remember watching fireworks on TV and have lots of treaty stuff to eat (most of which I think is gross now, although I still wonder if cheese-whiz is as good as I remember it πŸ˜€ ).

When we moved, my dad joined a carpool because we were considerably further away from his work than before. While he is friends with everyone in the carpool, he really connected with one guy in particular, because our families had very similar values (and they just plain got along! πŸ˜› ). Mr. E. is a pyrotechnic, and that asked my dad and brothers to help with the fireworks he was doing at a nearby lake for the 4th. They did (because how cool is setting up and shooting off fireworks, and what 19 and 21 year-old boys – I mean, men – can resist that?), and the rest of us met for the first time when we got together to watch the show.Β  We became good friends with them over the years, and some of us have helped with the fireworks show every year for the last 9 years! (You have to be over 18 to work with the actual fireworks.)

My first year helping was last year, and I had a blast! <-no pun intended, honest. I just use that a lot, apparently. I was so excited that I started a countdown on my phone until the next 4th. As it does so many times with annual things I look forward to, the more time passed, the less excited I got in a way. But then a few days before, I got the buzz, and I was ready to get started!

This year was my favorite so far, because it was a really small group; just us, the E. family, and a handful of mutual friends of ours, all of whom I’ve known for the last 9 or so years (some I only see once a year, though).

I forgot to say that after that first year, Mr. E. was asked to do the show at Lake Wilderness, which is our lake. As in it’s like 5 minutes away, when the other lake was 20. Much better! πŸ˜‰ But Lake Wilderness is home, although it was made so mostly by participating in fireworks, because we don’t go there much besides that. πŸ˜›


The lake was gorgeous all three days of our work, and begging to be jumped into. But we all did an honorable job resisting, and only a little wading happened during work hours. πŸ˜€ (I heard that those who camp there overnight to stay with the stuff did do some swimming, but that’s off the record!)

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Also, the ducks abound! They are very bold, although they never got quite this close this year (it’s an old picture). I wanted to get a duck pic this year, but I was always busy doing something when they came around.

**Note: This is not a tutorial, it is just me giving you a peek into my experience. This was all supervised and directed by a licensed pyrotechnic. Please exercise extreme caution around any kind of explosives, and don’t do anything you don’t have the knowledge and certification to be doing. That’s how people get hurt, and die!**

Day 1:


We started work at noon on the 2nd, which we spent taking these racks and angling them just right (with a tool, not by eyeball, thank goodness!), and nailing them into what we also call a rack (confusing, right!). This involves lots of nails, hammers, big pieces of wood, and sand bags.

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This is what it looks like at the very end, but you can kind of see what I was saying about building a bigger rack from the smaller ones. Luke and I were a team this year, and this was “our rack”. At least for the most part. We weren’t able to do absolutely everything, but we did most of it.


The very official-looking clip-board. Each rack had it’s own copy, and it would be impossible to do this without those precious pieces of paper! We must have referenced our clipboard 50-100 times over the weekend. I’m not good at numbers, though, so I don’t know, maybe that’s way off. This is the overview, which is good for when you want to see the big picture. Mostly we referenced the paper that was specific to our rack.


The above mentioned sand bags. Their job is to stabilize the racks; the six-inch shells can create a big kick, and it wouldn’t do for the rack to fall over after the first one went off! We also cut some open and used the sand inside to level out the uneven ground we were dealing with, and it also helps absorb the shock.

Mr. E. prints up labels with all kinds of stats about the fireworks, which we then have to put on the tubes so that the right firework will be put in the right tube, and will go off at the right time. These labels make everything else tons easier for the next two days. So after we had finished building our rack, we worked on labeling the tubes. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture. 😦

Day 2:

This day we focused on the wiring. This is pretty brainy work, and it is very easy to mess things up. Once you get into a groove, though, it’s better. I’m borrowing some pictures Hannah took several years ago to help illustrate this, because I didn’t think/didn’t have a chance to take pictures at this stage.

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Most tubes need their own wire, and there’s a particular way to tie it so that the firework can’t pull the knot out, but we can “easily” once the show is over and we are tearing down. I’m sure the smart knot-people have a name for it, but I’m not one of them, so in my book, it’s “the firework knot”. πŸ™‚

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Then you have this. It looks pretty intimidating, but once you get to know it, it’s actually pretty friendly. It’s called a slat. Don’t know why, but it is. This is where the ends of the wires we tied to the tubes go.

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Like so. Once prepped and checked for continuity, each of the split ends goes into the two parallel clip-looking things. If you can’t understand from that horrible description (no big surprise!), you can kind of see what it looks like once it’s done by looking at the wire that’s all done in the picture.

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And there you have it! That is a completely wired rack. It’s a lot of fun! (In this picture they are using masking tape labels instead of the fancy computer printed ones we have now.)

Day 3 (Independence Day):

We started early (8:00), but thankfully, they serve breakfast. Mrs. E. is really into food, and even does catering for weddings sometimes, so I wasn’t surprised that the breakfast was really good! She always comes up with creative, but still easy and filling meals.


This was a sausage/egg sandwich on an english muffin (I think?), with the arguably most important part in my book: cheese! And fruit on the side. Yum. It was very good. Wait, did I say that already? Sorry. I kind of wanted more, but I knew I didn’t need it, so I savored the one I had. (Oh, and that english muffin = heaven!)

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(I’m borrowing pics from Hannah again.) These are the shells. It looks like the small ones are 3″, and the “big ones” are 5″. That means we had shells bigger than those big ones pictured. I’m telling you, theseΒ are fireworks! πŸ˜‰ I’m a bit biased, though! πŸ˜€ Anyway, we used to get the shells on the 3rd, so we could start prepping them the afternoon before. This time, though, they had to deliver it on the 4th. (I don’t know/remember why.)

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Did you see those little boxes in the previous picture? That’s what the shells come in. Then we label them so that we know which tube it will go in (I won’t go into how we know which label goes where, but there is a system), and sort them into boxes organized by which rack they are going to.

So first thing, we all started working on labeling and sorting the shells. It was a bit chaotic to have everyone trying to sort through boxes of fireworks (we had more people on the 4th), but in a way it was kind of fun, and there were several running jokes going! We worked together to find what we were looking for, and more often than not, I would find whatever someone else was looking for and vice-versa. It kept things interesting, that’s for sure!

Once some of the boxes going to each rack got full, Mr. E. had me and Daddy start “nesting” the shells. This is where we match the firework label to the ones we put on the tubes, and then we rest the shell on the top of its tube. It’s not connected to electricity at this point, so we could still move around fairly safely. As the sorters got closer to being done, some of them came and helped us nest, which was a good thing because we were starting to get a bit behind. πŸ˜€

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Before we knew it, we were done! Next up, “dropping” the shells, aka loading a whole bunch of cannons. This is when it is the most dangerous.

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Ok, so this is kind of blurry, but it does the job. That little green blur is the other end of the wire (the one dangling into the tubes) that we wired earlier. It’s actually the protective end on the e-match (e is for electric just like everything nowadays πŸ˜› ), which is what will light the firework off. What we have to do is stick it into the hole in the other plastic thing, which is attached to a shell.

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Wrap the wire around a couple times for extra security, and then carefully lower the shell into the tube. And that’s it! Then, as Mr. E. says, you don’t put anything in front of that tube that you aren’t willing to part with. Just don’t run with the visuals there. *shudders*


Then comes the waiting. This time, we came home for a bit and I was able to grab a quick nap (not something I can usually do, but I was dead tired). I only slept for half of the time, but it was still a bit of a refreshment. It took me a while to look and feel like I hadn’t been sleeping in my clothes (even worse because they were work clothes). I was dirty, sunscreen-y and sweaty in this selfie, but it was all part of the experience. Note the Pyro crew t-shirt. That got us past the cops when everyone else had to turn around, and allowed us into “the blast zone”. It’s pretty fun! I got a wicked thrill when we came up to the cop directing traffic and told him we were with the pyro crew and he gave us the go-ahead. Muhahaha!


We always have a potluck-type dinner, and although last year was a little sparse, this year was much better! I had some of our chicken salad, a few Kettle chips (Yay!! Special treat for me here! I ❀ Kettle chips. πŸ˜€ ) cherries, and watermelon. It wouldn’t be the 4th without watermelon. (I love watermelon, too!) I was in heaven with the cherries, and I ate a ton. I openly confessed that I thought I could probably eat my weight in the things, and while I didn’t quite, I did have a lot. πŸ˜€

Oh, I almost forgot about the dip! You can’t see it very well in the picture, but there was a dip there that apparently had a reputation for being addictive. I’m not a dip person, but I tried some, and I have to say, while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting. Of course, it’s main feature was it was supposed to be garlicky, and not only do I eat kind of a lot of garlic, the dinner I had before tasting the dip had a fair amount of garlic in it. So maybe it wasn’t a very fair test. πŸ™‚


Fireworks! We get VIP seats inside the caution tape that everyone else has to stay behind. πŸ˜€ We take precautions of course, and we aren’t super close. But close enough! I wasn’t going to take pictures during the show, because I have for several years, and I can’t really enjoy the show. I thought I had tried my phone last year with utter failure, but this year on the spur of the moment, during the finale (where it’s hard to get a bad picture because there’s always something in the sky), I whipped my phone out and took this picture. It turned out so much better than I was expecting, I called it good. Sorry that you don’t have more, but they really aren’t the same without the sound. =S

As soon as the show was over, those of us who were over 18 started to get ready for tear-down while Mr. E. checked to see if all the shells had gone off. If one didn’t (and there were several that didn’t!), then he had to figure out why, fix the problem, and then shoot it off. Once all the shells were detonated ( πŸ˜€ ), he gave the “all clear”, and it was all hands on deck, even the underage kids. πŸ˜‰ (Kidding, Luke! There was a lot of stuff Luke had to do for me because I was too wimpy of his brute strength. πŸ˜€ )

Tear down was pretty brutal. It’s still fun, though! I think I had used every muscle in my body to it’s fullest extent by the end of the weekend <-slight exaggeration, but not by a lot! We pulled out the nails we had so painstakingly nailed in two days before, ripped off all the exploded wires, and shook the remainders of shells out of tubes (the worst!). Then we had to rake, blow (someone had that genius idea!) and pick up all the little pieces of stuff.

Sorry, no pictures again because a.) it was like 11-1 in the evening/morning so it was dark, b.) because we were all working too hard, to pause to take pictures and c.) because it was the middle of the night, and no one wants their picture taken or to be taking pictures at that time, especially when you are working. One of our friends did take a group photo of us once we had one by one plunked down on the nearby picnic tables, but I don’t have it. It’s probably for the best. We were all pretty zombie-ish, and probably none of us would be proud of it. Plus, I would have to get everyone’s consent to put it up here.


I do have this, though. This was my hands after tear down! That is mostly black powder on my hands, which means I could really freak-out some airport people if I wanted to. Thankfully, I’m not evil, so there’s no danger of me even thinking of it, right? πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜› (In case you were wondering, that band-aid is protecting where I removed the skin on my hand by hammering with my dad’s rubber-handled hammer without gloves. Stupid, I know. And what’s worse, is I did the exact same thing last year. I just hope I’ll remember not to that next year…) Black powder smells nostalgic now, and pretty much the whole crew feels the same way about it. It’s another running subject that goes around while we work. By the way we go around sniffing it, you would think it was a drug! My hands still smelled like black powder all day Sunday. πŸ˜€

The 5th has a reputation among the fireworks crew. You don’t do anything on the 5th. Unless it is sleeping in, staring at the floor, watching movies, reading, or anything along those lines. When I was younger, I would sleep in until noon, but thankfully, I can’t do that anymore. It was a little disconcerting to wake up and have half the day gone.

This year, I got to bed at like 2:30 on the night of the 4th (or morning of the 5th, depending on how you look at it), after making the perhaps hardest but best decisions ever to shower before going to bed. I got up at 8:30, but I felt oddly better than I have in past years when I’ve slept longer. We watched a couple movies (Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, which was awful, and Thor, which was awesome!), and generally took it easy. But I had that shocked feeling that I get when I am going, going, going with something social over a long weekend, and it suddenly comes to an end. It feels almost as if the world and my life has come to a complete stop. I knew it would get better with time, and it gradually has.

Sorry this was such a massive post! I guess it makes sense because it took me so long to put it together. But if you made it all the way through, you get serious points from me! Fist-bump!

What is it for you that a certain holiday it wouldn’t be the same without? What did you do for Independence Day (for those in the States)?


2 thoughts on “Behind-The-Scenes of a Fireworks Show

  1. Even with having been around fireworks for so many years and brushing shoulders with Zee Pyros, there were a lot of things I learned from this post and your explanations.

    My Fourth was hanging with our bestest dogs and trying to persuade them that their people *would* come back. πŸ˜› And the show. Obviously.

    I know birthdays aren’t exactly a holiday, but my birthday is one of my favorite celebrations ( πŸ˜› ), and I couldn’t imagine it without a special meal (especially DESSERT!! <- best part of any meal) and presents. I am so a kid still.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny! Some things do change over time, though, which might be part of it.

      Thanks for staying home with them; I know they would have been more freaked if you had been gone!

      Lol, you are funny! We can count birthdays as holidays for your sake. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜› And I agree: dessert is the best part of them meal!


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