The days of the “Good Old Boys” lighting fireworks behind the high school for the town to watch, that’s a scene from the past, according to Pyrotechnician Joe Diaz. “People don’t think …
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The days of the “Good Old Boys” lighting fireworks behind the high school for the town to watch, that’s a scene from the past, according to Pyrotechnician Joe Diaz.
“People don’t think about everything that goes into this,” Diaz said. “They just take it for granted, the thousands of people that show up for a display throw a blanket on the ground and wait for the fireworks.”
They don’t think about the work that goes into good show, like designing specialty fireworks for single display and syncing the whole thing up to music.
“And then there’s the licensing you need to transfer explosives and the insurance you need to pull for each jurisdiction and check-ins you do with the local fire department,” Diaz said. “It’s amazing the things you have to do, and people think it’s all just the good old boys hand-firing shells.”
Diaz, his wife and business partner Sharon Carmody, and his team of 70 pyrotechnicians at Tri-State Fireworks in Brighton will spread out across Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas over the next few weeks.
They’ll be providing the sizzle for at least 40 shows around July 4th and firing off thousands of electronically timed shells in the process. That includes displays in Brighton, Northglenn, Broomfield and Golden.
At one time, July 4 might have been the season for an outfit like Tri-State Fireworks. But not anymore.
“Over the 4th of July week, we do about 40 shows,” Diaz said. “But it never stops, not anymore. Our season really started a month ago, and we’ve been shooting shows every week. And it’ll continue after the Fourth. We’ll have a week off and then we’re right back into — fair season and end of summer events and fall festivals and rodeos and just everything. We get a break in October and then it starts up again and rides right into New Year’s Eve.”
There might be good old boys on his team, but they’re also professionals in other fields. They include an aerospace engineer, teachers, a college athletic director and one pyrotechnician working on his doctorate in education.
“There are rules and regulations we all have to follow, state licensing and federal licensing that we all have to have to do this,” he said. “And people don’t think about. They just look up.”
Starts with a stand
For Diaz, fireworks were a way of life right from the beginning. He opened a fireworks stand in Goodland, Kansas at 12 and never looked back from it.
“That’s how it all evolved,” he said. “There are commercial fireworks and that’s what I sold. But the local VFW shot off their own fireworks and they needed help.”
He took a break after college, working for a development company with the golfing industry for a while.
“My Mom was so happy that I was out of the fireworks business,” Diaz said. “When I was a kid and she said ‘Is that what you’re going to do your whole life?’ So when I got a different job, she was so happy. But I told her not to get to excited.”
He got back into fireworks, mostly on the retail said, but doing a few shows. Today, they still have some stands in eastern Colorado but providing professional aerial displays is their bread and butter.
Dermody was fireworks novice when they met.
“She hadn’t even held a sparkler when we got married,” Diaz said.
Today, though, she designs most of the shows they present, coming up with the firing plans, often matched to music, and then setting up the shells so they’ll fire schedule. She’s also among the 30 or so technicians they rely on to set up and run the shows.
“She’s probably the busiest technician in the area,” he said. “She’s been involved in just about every show out there.”
Dermody said they also import their own fireworks and can have specialty fireworks created, like shells that display a company’s logo or saying when they explode.
“We have Us, Ss and As, hearts and spirals and other specialties we can bring in,” she said. “And our suppliers will work with us if we want something special.”
It can take months to set up a 25 minute show, Carmody said.
“Every shell for every show has to have an electronic igniter inserted,” she said. “And then they have to be put in specific order and boxes up so they can be loaded correctly in the mortars for the rack teams and the lead technicians can set them up.”
She uses a computerized scripting program to choreograph the shows, often timing them to go off along to music.
“We tell the computer what kind of shells were are using and what kind of inventory we have and match that all up,” she said. “We decided the timing and the product and the different effects we have.”
When all the design work is done, they’ll spend hours delivering the displays where they need to be. Diaz said his company uses nondescript cars and trucks because they are carrying explosives.
“Friends have said I should put a big wrap on our vehicles advertising the business, but that’s really the last thing I’d want to do,” he said. “You don’t want to be pulling up to hotel like that, in this world that we live in, advertising what you’re carrying.”
He’s looking forward to a great season, bolstered by Colorado’s recent wet weather.
“I think this rain, could really save the season,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of moisture and cool temperatures and that’s perfect for us.”
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