Planning a Consumer Fireworks Display

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: Consumer Fireworks

Many of us really enjoy producing a nice fireworks display to entertain our family and friends, and to show off our pyro talents.

Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed making small Cremora fireball pots for such a show, and electric matches to use when firing them.

For many years a buddy of mine has hosted a large party, with a hog-roast and a bonfire, which has brought in hundreds of folks. I’ve presented a fireworks show annually at this event to cap off the festivities.

There’s nothing quite like putting in many hours of work and to have it result in that many people-adults and children-sitting in rapt awe as the show goes on, and erupting in joyful cheering at its completion.

I’ve had many folks compliment these small shows, comparing them favorably with the huge, commercial, downtown displays on the river. There’s just something about a small, intimate, family-and-friends setting, ending up with a nicely planned pyro display, all resulting in a really memorable event.

In the end, this demonstration of our pyrotechnic creativity, talent, hard work, and experience, and the entertaining of others with all of it, is really what this art form is all about.

To insure a safe and successful consumer fireworks display, there are some topics which merit consideration in the planning process:

  • What are the laws governing such fireworks displays in my particular state, county, or city? Is there a requirement to have insurance for such a show?
  • What is the site like where the display is to be presented? What sorts of fireworks devices will be appropriate and safe at that site?
  • What is the budget for the show? Who will be paying for the fireworks, and when?
  • Will the display be shot with accompanying music or not?
  • Will the display be fired by hand, electrically, or with a combination of the two?
  • Who will be helping with the display?
  • What will be the length of the show?
  • What devices will be employed in the show, and how will they be laid out at the site?
  • What safety precautions are necessary?
  • Will there be any reloading of fireworks during the show?
  • How can we prepare for inclement weather?

All of this might sound like a bit of “overkill” to some of you. Having been involved in the planning and production of many small “backyard” displays and large commercial ones, I have learned the value of planning and getting as much of the work done prior to the day of the show as possible.

It’s quite amazing how much work there is to be done on the day of the show. If the above topics are addressed beforehand, and if enough work is done before the day of the show, then the chances of a safe, successful and enjoyable show are greatly improved.

This ain’t a fun subject, but it might be the one which can save you a lot of heartbreak and wasted money.

In the USA, there is no federal law regulating the use of consumer fireworks, only their production and sale.

But laws vary widely from state to state, and from locality to locality. In my state of Ohio, the display of all but “safe and sane” consumer fireworks is illegal. But around the Fourth of July many local law enforcement agencies look the other way unless they get a lot of complaints from neighbors.

In some other states anything goes. In others if you fire off a bottle rocket you’ll end up in the slammer pretty quickly, have all your fireworks confiscated and perhaps your car and home as well.

Only you can research your state and local laws, and determine for yourself what you can and cannot do.

Here in Ohio, I’ve chosen to get my state fireworks display operator’s license, to procure the necessary fireworks display permits, and to have a certificate of insurance for any display I produce. This gets the authorities-having-jurisdiction (AHJ’s) on my side, and I avoid having to be looking over my shoulder and waiting for the cop cars to pull up during the show.

And, if God forbid, there’s any property damage or injury, my permit and insurance are there to back me up.

Where will I be shooting the display? How big is the area; where will the spectators be; how close are the nearest structures and trees; how dry is the surrounding vegetation; and what sorts of fireworks will be safe to display there?

Some measurements with a measuring-wheel, and a simple sketch of the site can help a lot with the planning of the show.

Sketch of a Fireworks Display Site

Sketch of a Fireworks Display Site

On the sketch, I define the areas where the crowd will be. I show where I’m going to erect a barrier of stakes and caution tape, beyond which the spectators will not be allowed.

Continue Reading: Planning a Consumer Fireworks Display…

1 Comment For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Very helpful thanks alot.

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