Saturday, 02 July 2005

07worksI have a couple of hobbies that have stuck with me for a few years. And one of them culminates yearly on the 4th of July. I have a license to blow up stuff granted to me by the State of Oregon - a pyrotechnician operator's license. Thanks to some friends at a commercial fireworks display company near me, I get to have some fun now and then by shooting their shows.

On Monday, a bunch of friends and coworkers of mine will be meeting me in a town near here, where we'll be setting up the public fireworks display show to be launched later that evening. Then we'll clean it up. It will be a blast. Pun completely intended.

It's not a huge show or anything, but it's more work than you might realize. While the sponsoring city has a backhoe dig an 18-inch trench about 150 feet long, everything else is done by hand by the pyro crew. We will be unloading and burying over 400 individual mortar tubes, all of them 4- and 5-inch diameter sizes. We'll set them in the trench, backfill the trench to hold the mortar tubes securely in place, and prep the area. It's quite a bit of work.

And by the way - the crew is made up completely of people who are interested in doing the work. I just ask people I know if they're interested and see who wants to help. The only qualifications I put on my crew are those placed on them by the state - you have to be old enough (21), sober (duh) and not legally banned from handling explosives (the ATF cares about this a lot) - plus my own additions of "must not be crazy and must be able and willing to be very, very safe." It also helps if you can bear some fairly acrid smoke and don't mind getting dirty. Sometimes very dirty. In other worlds, it's open to most people who show an interest and want to give it a try. Some people even come back for more.

20040709_fireworks2Anyhow, after we get the mortars installed in the ground, we'll unpack the explosives - the fireworks shells that is - and carefully load them into their individual mortars. We'll check and double-check them, and if necessary we'll prep the whole thing in case of weather problems (wet fireworks simply don't work very well). We'll have time to be meticulous and make sure everything's just right. By the time we're set up, everyone working will be more than ready for a break. We'll break for dinner, followed by an evening of hanging around keeping the curious gawkers with cigarettes away, while waiting for 10:00pm to come around.

Then, in a total of about 15 or so minutes, we'll light some fusees and destroy what took us several hours to prepare. After the excitement is over, we'll spend an hour or so cleaning it all up, digging out the mortar tubes in the dark and putting them back on the truck. And then we'll finally get out of there.

It makes for a long, fun day - you're worn out by the time it's all over with. Because I have some pretty nagging back problems, I can't really do any of the heavy lifting or twisting this year, so I am quite grateful there will be a good crew of people there to share in the fun. I'll just focus on the requisite safety teaching and making sure no one does anything that could get them hurt. It's no fun anymore if anyone gets hurt, after all.

Once you've smelled the smoke, there is no return. Fact is, there's nothing like lighting several hundred big-bore cannons you've stuck in the ground - firing out loud concussions of kaboom and hurling colorful stuff into the sky - to get your blood pumping. Travis (in his typical colorful blog entry style) put it this way last year:

"An exhausting day, to be sure, but there's something about it that, once you've done it, you can't not do it again. It's all of the scariness and loud bang and fire of war with the safety of proper setup and equipment (and the knowledge that no one is actually shooting back at you). You smell the gunpowder smoke, you feel the impact, and you're hooked.

"We'll definitely be back next year. Hopefully it won't be at the sewage treatment plant."

Umm, sorry dude - same misty city as last year, applicators and all. Heheh...

Happy 4th!

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Saturday, 02 July 2005 17:30:27 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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Tuesday, 05 July 2005 12:42:57 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
That's awesome. And I thought I was cool with my remote detonator and setting off 7 mortars simultaneously :)

What does it take to get a pyro license?
Wednesday, 06 July 2005 03:20:49 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Basically, you work on fireworks show crews to gain some experience, and you also take a class and pass a state-administered test. You have to work three shows in a three year period, and you have to perform certain duties during those shows. Thing like light shells, load shells, install mortars, clean up after, etc.

It's a lot of fun. Not sure where you're located, Bryan (east coast?), but if you are ever anywhere around Portland, OR on July 4 (or any other time, you never know when a fireworks show comes up), let me know if you'd like to work on a show and see what it's like.

For that matter, invitation's open - anyone can ask. :)
Tuesday, 12 July 2005 02:42:15 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Very NEAT pics!! You will have to fill me in...That is def a very cool hobby!

Looks like you had a BLAST! LOL =)
Wednesday, 21 September 2005 11:31:06 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Hey Greg,

What are the Mortar Tubes made out of?

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