Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Reds and purples and yellows and greens explode above with pomp and circumstance every Fourth of July.
With all attention turned upward, little thought is given to what’s happening on the ground.
Be it a barge, a fairground or, closer to home, Morgan Park in Georgetown, great care, design, planning and safety precautions go into every fireworks show according to the City of Georgetown fireworks display mistress of ceremonies.
Danette Carter of Longs is half of a husband and wife pyrotechnic team.
Her husband, Anthony, helps deliver the Georgetown equipment before heading out to another site in another town where he will manage the fireworks for another July Fourth celebration.
Carter and her crew – Patrick Cox, Teague Floyd and Ladain Pope – carefully pull wooden frames from the back of a Budget rental truck and begin setting them up. It will take them seven hours to ready the show that begins at 9 p.m.
The frames hold tubes of varying diameters. They arrange them in triangular and square configurations. Soon the tubes will hold the fireworks.
They arrived at the park with the frames around 1 p.m. and at 1:30 Georgetown City Fire Department Battalion Chief David Holcombe arrives. He checks in with Carter.
“What do you know about fireworks?”
“They go boom,” he laughs.
Carter explains he is here to ensure that they set up with proper clearance from trees, brush and where spectators will be. Then, once it is time for the show to begin, he will be on hand along with EMS should anything go wrong.
Another Budget rental truck pulls in and Carter’s husband gets out. She signals to Holcombe that the live fireworks have arrived. He immediately leaves to clear the park of visitors. From here out, only licensed pyrotechnicians are allowed beyond the entrance. It is at the entrance that the fire department and EMS will standby.
Carter and her husband work for East Coast Pyrotechnics out of Catawba which is near Rock Hill. She has been a licensed pyrotechnician for 12 years and worked for East Coast for seven years.
The show she’s setting up will last between 15 and 20 minutes. Because Georgetown is a long-time customer, it isn’t paying top dollar.
“A really good show costs about $1,000 a minute,” says Carter.
This show will consist of cakes and shells. A cake is a repeating aerial firework consisting of many shots, named after its usual short, cake-like appearance. Cakes consist of one fuse attached to several tubes (sometimes hundreds) which fire in sequence, launching a variety of effects into the air, including comets, crossettes, whistles, reports, mines, spinners, and flying fish. The show will also feature smiley faces and flower baskets, Carter said.
A shell, or aerial shell, is a spherical- or cylindrical-shaped firework propelled into the air from a mortar, where it bursts and ignites the contents inside. These are the most common and well-known type of firework.
“We have four to five cakes and a couple of hundred shells,” Carter said.
Once the frames with their tubes are set up, Carter and her team will attach a wire to each. The wire is similar to speaker wire and one end plugs into Carter’s “board” and the other to the actual firework. This is painstaking work as each wire has to attach to both the correct firework as well as the correct sequence on her board.
The board operates somewhat like a theater lighting board in that it has a series of switches and as Carter activates each switch it cause the instantaneous ignition of a firework.
Pyrotechnicians design a program alternating types of fireworks and culminating with a finale. If the wires are not carefully attached at both ends, the show will not work as designed.
The smaller tubes – holding anything under a four-inch shell – are not electronically lit but hand lit by her team.
The fireworks go between 300 and 400 feet into the air right above the team’s heads. Soon, Carter said, she hopes to have music accompanying the choreographed display that would be “simulcast” on a local radio station.
“It’s in the works,” she said.
The team set up the finale across the parking lot from the bulk of the show. This, Carter explained, is so that a stray ember that hasn’t burned out before hitting the ground won’t accidentally set off the finale before it’s time.
The hand-lit fireworks are also across the parking lot on another side to keep the team safe. There are fire extinguishers with the equipment.
Carter and her crew will clean up after the show under headlights and park lights. “We will get all the big stuff,” she said. “The city comes in the next day and rakes after these shows.”
At 2 p.m., they had six hours of work ahead of them. Carter said good-bye and headed back to work with her team.