Go behind the scenes with the local ‘PYROS’

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By Bria McKamey

1,200 to 1,500 shells firing off at 250 mph and around-the-clock security. To the guys in one Pyro Shows fireworks crew, this is a normal day in the office.

CAMPBELL COUNTY­­­­—One crew in particular, headed by crew leader Danny Sheckles was kept busy this Fourth of July holiday.­

While crowds gathered in various locations to take in the fireworks, the crew worked about 12 hours in preparation. All for a 10- to 15-minute show. That does not include the two to three hours it took to disassemble everything once the show was over.

Trevor Nolan is training to be a crew leader and has been working fireworks shows for five years. He wires all of the fireworks together in a sequence and usually does three shows during the Independence Day period.

“I always wanted to try it,” crew member Isaac Phillips said about first becoming involved. His favorite part of the show was shooting the fireworks.

Aaron “Red” Branam has been a part of the crew for the past two years and said his best memory is shooting his first show and “shooting it 100 percent.”

A lot of behind-the-scenes time and effort goes into putting on a fireworks production for thousands of people.

The first step to shooting a show is to get an aerial view of the location where the fireworks will be launched. This helps the crew to see where any debris may fall. Every location must have a clear area of 400 feet circling around where the shells will be shot.

The fireworks are unloaded off of a truck and loaded into firing tubes. Each rack has a specific cue. The fireworks used this year were 1.3 grams and were a variety of 4-, 5- and 6-inch shells.

For added safety, black tarps are taped over the racks of the fireworks to prevent moisture or stray sparks from reaching the shells — which are housed in long tubes in the racks. The tubes give the fireworks direction so they shoot straight up when they are launched. The crew then works on wiring the fireworks.

The wires go inside what is called a junction box, while the action takes place in the firing box. It’s here that the fireworks are timed to go off at certain intervals during the show.

Once the show is ready to begin, the shooter controls the firing box, and at least one spotter is nearby to make sure all of the shells fire and to prevent people from wandering into the launching area.

The goal is to launch every single shell. Those that do not launch could mean more dark space — long pauses in the show that result in the audience seeing only the night sky.

The finale fireworks — or “cakes” as they are called — are made up of a lot of smaller fireworks that explode in quick succession.

After the final shell has bursted into an array of different colors, the cleanup begins.

But first, the battery must be taken out of the firing box and the firing board must be unhooked to ensure that any leftover shells that may not have fired do not have any power flowing to them.

The crew allows for a 15-30-minute cool down period — in case any remaining shells go off — before checking the racks.

Crew member Travis Forsyth said in addition to all of the preparation that goes into a show, the crew also takes safety precautions very seriously. Fireworks crew members must have obtained a pyrotechnician license to handle explosives.

Even though the job is difficult and physically demanding, Forsyth said it is rewarding.

“Hearing the screams from the crowd makes it all worth it,” he said. “It’s energizing. To me, that’s the best part of the show.”