Fireworks mortar racks

Mortar racks like these are used to hand-fire professional fireworks displays. This show was fired off in Ohio. 

 When you watch the city of Fenton fireworks display on July 4, you’ll be witnessing the handiwork of John Greer of Zambelli Fireworks and the crew of technicians on the ground.

 “We consider ourselves to be entertainers,” Greer said. “People of all ages like it. Most of what we do as technicians is behind the scenes, they just see the results.”

 Fireworks will light up the sky this July 4, with many cities planning and hiring for their own municipal shows across the country. The city of Fenton has contracted with Zambelli Fireworks of Warrendale, Pennsylvania. The show will be set off from Silver Lake Park, and viewed from along Silver Parkway and the surrounding area.

 As project manager, Greer plans the shows and puts the necessary pyrotechnics, called “shells,” together, which are physically assembled in Pittsburgh, and driven here by truck. Greer works with the customer, which in this case is the Fenton Freedom Festival Committee. He also handles contracts and permits and schedules the crew of technicians.

 He’ll design the individual shows on paper, which last on average, for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the budget. According to Pat Lockwood, chair of the committee, they

contracted with Zambelli Fireworks for $13,000.

 According to the packet, they’ll be shooting off 600 3-inch aerial display shells, 160 4-inch shells, 135 5-inch shells, and 108 6-inch shells for a total of 1,033. There are nearly 500 shells in the grand finale.

 While possibly dangerous enough to require $10 million in insurance, Greer said Michigan pyrotechnicians aren’t required to have a specific license, but they are in Ohio.

 The morning of the show, the technicians will set up mortar racks, which are a series of tables to get the shells off the ground. Some shows are fired electronically from a distance, but these will be hand-fired. Those that need to fire in quick succession are daisy-chained by shared fuses.

 There are different regulations on commercial grade fireworks than consumer grade. Anyone purchasing commercial grade fireworks must be licensed through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

 The largest diameter shells they’ll be firing in Fenton are 6 inches. Greer said that they’re required by the National Fire Prevention Association to have 100 feet of safe distance per inches of shell. The largest shells require 600 feet from nearby structures.

 The colors and “stars” displayed by the fireworks are composed inside the shells themselves. The shape the stars take in the air, whether a circle or a heart, are laid out in that shape inside the shell.

 “When you hear the crowds cheering at the end of the show it brings a whole lot of satisfaction,” Greer said. “But there’s a heck of a lot of work involved.”

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