Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 5, 2014

The science behind bombs bursting in air

Times gets a look at fireworks prep

VALDOSTA — Friday night, the eyes of millions throughout the nation were fixed on the heavens as the sky exploded with color and light to celebrate freedom and a nation’s birthday, but the long and tedious process to bring a fireworks show to life is much more humble than its grand result.

Friday afternoon, the Valdosta/Lowndes Parks and Recreation Authority granted The Times permission to visit the launch site for its Independence Day fireworks display. The display can easily be seen each year from the Valdosta Mall area, but the launch site location is kept secret from the public as a safety precaution.

The cleared field was empty except for several clusters of black tubes secured in wooden crates, a far cry from the iconic images of fireworks as colorful rockets on sticks, the kinds seen in old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

“Last year was my first year out here, and it did not look like what I was expecting it to look like,” said Sarah Pinson, VLPRA program coordinator.

Instead of colorful rockets, the actual fireworks are light brown mortar shells, three- to six-inch spheres topped with a cone. At the right angle, each shell looks like a head with a dunce cap. The entire scene is such a juxtaposition to the thunderous color of a fireworks display that it seems almost impossible that the one could lead to the other.

“The cone is the lift charge that’s filled with black powder,” said Jeffrey Studebaker with Pyrotecnico, the firm hired by the VLPRA to put on the show. “When it ignites, it lights the fuse for the firework while at the same time launching it into the air.”

The result is a spectacular display of colors against the night sky and a deafening boom, a majestic scene that came from a dull-looking ball wearing a hat.

Orchestrating the display is a day-long process. Studebaker and the Pyrotecnico crew arrived at 7 a.m. to begin setting up and worked throughout the day. Each firework had to be placed in its own tube and fitted with its own fuse. Each of those fuses then had to be connected to an electronic control box.

“All of this will be electrically fired. We will take an electric match. That’s what its called, an e-match,” said Studebaker. “It takes a long time. We will wire it to the end of each of the shells, and we’ll all be sitting at a table pressing buttons. This is all done electronically.”

It’s a slow job because it’s a dangerous job. An accident with so many explosives would be devastating, so every safety precaution is taken when the Pyrotecnico crew stages a show. The Valdosta Fire Department inspected the display before show time, and fire engines were on scene during the show to respond immediately to any problems.

“We’ve been doing this for several years. We work very closely with all the different departments,” said Jessica Catlett, VLPRA marketing and public relations director. “The fire department is very good to us along with the Valdosta Police Department and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.”

Preparing the show isn’t grand. It’s hot and tedious with countless safety precautions. Dozens of people have to work tirelessly to make sure it runs smoothly and safely. Several local agencies have to coordinate to ensure the safety of those putting on the display and those enjoying it.

“We also work with the Georgia State Patrol who take care of the interstate because we are so close to the interstate that sometimes people stop while the fireworks are going off which is bad. We can’t have that,” said Catlett.

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