For 29 years I worked for Zambelli Bros. every 4th of July, my team and I putting on the best fireworks displays we could do for the budgeted explosives/insurance allotment for each town on the east coast we were assigned to entertain. And I will admit that hand loading the mortars and running around with a road flair to set them off was quite exciting, even if they did require computer controlled ignition if you exceeded a given shell size or for certain environments. And I am very proud of my crews safety record; at no point on any display was any member of the audience injured, and all of those of us on the shoot crew retain all of our limbs, eyeballs, etc. There may have been a few non-human damages inflicted, like the loss of the foliage on the 4th hole green at the Congressional Country Club golf course (they TOLD us it was OK to set up the finale racks there, but apparently they didn’t realize that things that exploded to launch themselves into the air would shower down some expended but still burning detritus), or the loss of some trees at the Antietam display in Sharpsburg the year the rain got to the launch charges (the wet launch charges threw them 100 ft. in the air, so the 400 foot blast radius for the larger shells made life a bit more exciting than we were expecting. But we moved all the cars out from under the trees before any of the gas tanks exploded, and it was fun watching the fire departments guy’s eyes bug out while he shouted “Is it SUPPOSED to do that??”).
I want to thank National Geographic for helping me relive that experience by putting together their excellent Naked Science episode, The Secret World of Fireworks. I came in part way through the first airing of the program on Thursday night, and will be re-watching it every time it airs this weekend; I encourage you to do the same. I especially liked that they devoted a noticeable segment of it to a display at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where I did my very last show in July of 2007. Happy 4th of July!