Annual fireworks displays are usually one of the most anticipated events of summer. Sure, the big bangs and bright lights are fun to admire, but there is a lot that happens behind the scenes before crowds can enjoy the show.
According to Charles Back, lead pyrotechnician for Orville, Ohio’s, yearly Fire in the Sky event, before a fireworks show of any sort can happen, three procedures must be followed.
“First, you have to get a fireworks permit from your respective city or township. This must be signed by local law enforcement agents stating that you may host a show,” he said. “Then, you need to make sure both the fire department and police department are on board because they play a large role in safety on the day of the event. Finally, you need to purchase the show from a licensed fireworks company to ensure the product you’re receiving is legitimate and safe.”
As is becoming the trend with many Fourth of July celebrations, Fire in the Sky is much more than just a fireworks display, so it takes a lot of coordination across various groups in town to make the event a success.
“Fire in the Sky also features a carnival with games, rides and food, as well a threeday softball tournament with the final game hosted on the evening of the display,” Back explained.
Since so many components go into a successful event, Back said the fire department, which acts as the primary planning team behind the event, works in coordination with multiple local departments to pull off the special weekend.
Coordination across multiple parties is a common practice when planning a Fourth of July extravaganza, said Danette Idlett, co-chair of Bowling Green, Ky.’s, Thunderfest event.
Thunderfest is sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club and is in its 46th year of existence. Idlett has been co-chair with her husband for three of those years and can attest to the collaboration an event of this magnitude requires.
“It takes great community involvement to make this happen,” Idlett said. “We can have great ideas all daylong, but without community support and sponsorships, nothing could get done. It’s amazing to see a community-owned event bringing everyone from city government officials to construction workers, local college faculty members and volunteers together to make this the best event possible.”
Thunderfest is held at the local amphitheater and, in addition to a large fireworks show, features everything from food trucks and carnival-style games to inflatables, a local band, a hot dog eating contest with community leaders and an Army National Guard-operated obstacle course. Without sponsors, the event wouldn’t be possible.
“The event is amazing,” Idlett said. “But the fireworks alone cost about $10,000, not to mention the other family-oriented activities we offer. Our sponsors are the ones who help foot the bill and they are amazing.”
Similar to practices Back described in Ohio, Idlett said Thunderfest coordinators have to work with local government officials to allow the event to happen each year.
“Bowling Green has grandfathered us into its parade permits, because due to the masses of people we have coming, we need to shut down roads to accommodate everyone,” she explained. “In order to do that, we work with the city to obtain a permit. It’s no problem, because once the city realized the impact this event has, they are willing to work with us.”
In addition to a fun night on the town, Thunderfest and Fire in the Sky both draw crowds from surrounding cities. This allows the cities a chance to show off everything they have to offer, share local eateries and activities, and spark economic growth.
Thunderfest operates largely off of sponsorships and donations, and all funds raised go to local nonprofits that impact the lives of children.
Hosting events that easily draw crowds of thousands requires a great amount of collaboration with local enforcement agencies. Rochester, Mich., Fire Chief John Cieslik has been a firefighter for 42 years and recalls helping out with local fireworks shows every year.
While Rochester’s largest fireworks display is actually held in the winter during an event called Fire and Ice, Cieslik said the safety procedures are the same in the summer, with the additional concern of dry grass as a hazard.
“As a member of the fire department, we follow the National Fire Protection Association’s standards to see how much clearance we’ll need around the fireworks, due to the size of the show,” he said. “Then, we station personnel around the clearance area to ensure nobody goes into the designated area and to respond quickly in case a firework fails or otherwise endangers anybody in the crowd.”
In addition to monitoring and enforcing the clearance zone, Cieslik said a large part of the job on the day of a fireworks show is actually crowd control.
“We work with our local police force to establish a security presence. An event involving fireworks will easily draw crowds of 30,000 people per night, so we make sure to establish a strong partnership to work together to keep everybody safe,” he said.
While fireworks are fun for audiences, Cieslik cautions that the use of explosives is not a game.
“As beautiful as fireworks are, they’re best left to professionals,” he said. “Be aware of your surroundings when you’re at these events, and especially if you choose to use fireworks in a non-commercial way. (Fireworks) may go sideways, and have been known to set fire to structures. You don’t want to turn something fun into a tragedy.”