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Fireworks company adds spark to Benderson Park's annual Fourth of July show

Pyrotecnico puts in hundreds of hours to create Nathan Benderson Park's Fireworks on the Lake.

From planning to design and setting up, hundreds of hours are put into making Nathan Benderson Park's Fireworks on the Lake a reality. File photo.
From planning to design and setting up, hundreds of hours are put into making Nathan Benderson Park's Fireworks on the Lake a reality. File photo.
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Every year just before the Fourth of July, thousands head to Nathan Benderson Park to view a 15-minute fireworks show. 

But before any fireworks can light up the sky July 3, professional fireworks company Pyrotecnico will have spent months planning, designing and preparing for the Fireworks on the Lake show. 

Michael Simmons, a regional manager for Pyrotecnico, said planning for the patriotic barrage begins in April. 

“Before the audience ever sees the first (shell), we have put in hundreds of hours of work to put the display together,” Simmons said.

He said the number and type of fireworks in a show is determined after the music has been selected. 

“This is a fully choreographed display to music,” he said. “The design team kind of fine-tunes the exact shell count to the budget and the music that’s available.”

Simmons said the music can either be selected entirely by the client or sometimes the Pyrotecnico music team works with the client to determine what songs will be included in the show. 

“I have some clients that choose 100% of their music and send us a finished soundtrack,” Simmons said. “I have others that give us an idea. They want a little country, they want a little pop and they want a little patriotic (music). They give us free rein so it’s a broad spectrum of how music is chosen. This time of year we like a little bit of a patriotic mix. It just depends on the audience.”

In a 15-minute show like the one at Fireworks on the Lake, Simmons said the team uses no more than about a minute to a minute and a half of any particular song, so the show can have 10 to 12 songs.

Once music is selected, the completed track goes to Pyrotecnico’s design team. 

The designers are tasked with selecting the exact moment the fireworks will be launched. 

Simmons said it takes about an hour or two to script one minute of display in the show. 

“Instead of just shooting fireworks for 15 minutes, it is a fully scripted display or pyromusical,” Simmons said. “The shells are matching up to the music, to the beat of the music and to the flow of the music.”

The designers have an extensive library of firework shells to choose from when putting a show together.

“The designers take a feel for the music, the ebb and flow of the music, and they try to play some on the beat, sometimes on the downbeat or the upbeat,” Simmons said. 

Some of the fireworks in the library include crossettes, chrysanthemums and horsetails. Crossettes have a criss-cross effect where every shot from the firework splits into a separate projectile and their trails cross each other. Chrysanthemums start with a line shooting up into the sky before bursting into dozens of streaks of sparks to look like the flower after which it’s named. Horsetails cause a loud bang before sparks fall from the sky looking like a horse’s tail. 

For the Fourth of July, Simmons said the designers always include the red, white and blue fireworks as well as rings that are half blue and half red. 

After planning and designing the show, there still is more work to be done. 

Simmons and his team will start getting the 1,200 firework shells that will be in the Fireworks on the Lake show prepped on July 2. The team will set up the racks and other equipment for the show so they can arrive at Nathan Benderson Park at 9 a.m. July 3 to start loading the shells into the racks at the right angle so they are ready to launch exactly as designed. 

The location of the fireworks is determined on the space available for the show.

“Part of the safety meeting with the client is to see what available space there is,” Simmons said. “The second part of that equation is the distance to the audience, which dictates what size shells we can shoot. If I’ve only got 100 feet to the audience, I can’t be shooting very long shells. The more space I have, the larger the shells that you can shoot.”

The designers provide the fireworks team with a cut sheet that tells the team exactly where to place the fireworks and at what angle. 

The team of four to seven members works on the display all day up until two or three hours before showtime at 9 p.m.

“I’ve been doing this 35 plus years, and I still get butterflies,” Simmons said. “We do a couple of safety checks and a couple of continuity checks leading up to it just to make sure everything is good. There’s always a little anxiety leading up to when you push the button and the first shell goes off. When the first shell goes in the air, there’s some relief. We’ve got everything queued up and we’re able to sit back and watch the show.”

All the fireworks are set up to go off using an electronic control so the team can stay at a safe distance from the fireworks as they explode and launch into the sky. 

Simmons said although many people want to be as close to the fireworks as they can because it’s more intense, the best place to watch the show actually is 1,000 feet away from the display. 

Simmons also suggests people listen to the music from the show, which will be broadcast on iHeartRadio’s KISS FM, which is station 103.9. 

“It brings a whole other level to the design of the show,” Simmons said. 

No matter how many hours it takes to put the show together, Simmons said it’s worth it.

“It is a lot of work for 15 minutes, but we’re in the business of creating memories,” Simmons said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve walked through various displays in the audience just before shoot time, and I’ve seen crowds where there are 1 year olds all the way up to the grandparents or great-grandparents. There are people that come out to the shows year after year. It’s the excitement of the crowd’s appreciation that makes it all worthwhile.”


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