Last week was the busiest of the year for Rich Vaughan.
He’s the eastern regional manager of Entertainment Fireworks, Inc., the company that created the Fourth of July shows for Riverfront Park and Coeur d’Alene, as well as more than 40 other shows throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho. The company also does the home games for the Spokane Indians baseball team.
“I don’t think there’s a job like this anywhere,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan fell in love with putting on fireworks shows on July 4, 1984, and has been doing it ever since, either part time or full time.Putting together a show that lasts about 15 to 20 minutes takes many hours of planning and labor, Vaughan said.
Workers who put together a fireworks show are called pyrotechnicians, and in Washington, they must be licensed. Every spring, Vaughan offers training courses for anyone interested in learning how to do it.
“Safety is first and foremost,” he said.
Each show starts with a script, telling the technician when to fire what shells. They start off slowly, with smaller shells, building up to the finale at the end.
“You’re painting a picture in the sky,” he said last week, while setting up the Lake Coeur d’Alene show.
After creating the script, Vaughan and his crew built sandboxes on the barge. After the boxes are filled, they place the mortars – tubes in which they place the shells – in the sand. Each mortar is labeled with its cue number.
The shells are then placed into the mortars and everything is wired to be fired. The crew even builds a boom shed on the barge for the technician to stand in while he sets off the shells for the show. For the finale, shells are connected using fuses that burn at 60 feet per second to explode one after the other in the air.
In big shows like the ones in Coeur d’Alene or Spokane, technicians use an electronic panel to set off shells. At smaller shows, like at baseball games, technicians will light many of the shells by hand before using the panel to set off the finale.
He said crews work long hours in what could be either very hot or very cold weather, and it’s not an easy job. His technicians are all part time. His nephew, Josh Vaughan, even takes a leave of absence from his regular job during the busy season to help. They get a percentage of the show fee split among them, which is at least minimum wage.
“The guys aren’t out here for the money,” he said.
For Vaughan, he’s in it for the crowds.
“The whole thing is listening to the crowd after the last shell is fired,” he said. In Coeur d’Alene, there are other boats on the water who blow their horns. At Spokane Indians games, the crowd goes nuts.
“It’s all about pleasing the crowd,” he said. “You’re there to entertain those people.”