By Mike Bisceglia
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, August 12, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
Rachelle Darcy and Holly Pierce prepare the tubes for the grand finale. Firing the shells for the celestial spectacle isn't simply a matter of striking a match to a fuse, running away, and hoping for the best. The mortars are precisely arranged on the beach.
Q.: What goes "snap, crackle, and pop," at bedtime?
(Hint: If you answered, "The noise from an insomniac's cereal bowl," that answer would be wrong.)
If you said, "A night sky filled with lollipops, butterflies, waterfalls, and horsetails," you would be correct!
Warren Pierce and his crew of merry noise-makers from American Thunder Fireworks, Inc., has been wowing the seacoast beach crowds for several years. They're true crowd-pleasers, but, after all, the real entertainment is in the sky.
"We're all about giving a quality show," said Holly Warren's wife. "People love fireworks displays, and we love to hear the crowds ooh and aah at everything we shoot into the sky. We want them to be safe when they watch the show, because we want them looking forward to the next one!"
"Safety is THE NUMBER ONE most important factor in our operation," emphasized Jeff Marcotte, a six-year veteran of producing booms in the night sky. "Everything about what we do begins and ends with protection for the crew and our audience. There is no other option."
"It is ironic," chuckled fourth-year boom-maker, Rachelle Darcy. "Folks come to the beach in bathing suits and t-shirts, and we couldn't be more dressed. From top down, we've got hard hats, earplugs, safety glasses, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, work gloves, and work boots. The only real skin we're showing is our noses."
"It really is humorous," added Kelly Ward, sixth-year welder and handler, "When we arrive to set up, we have a great section of this big, beautiful beach just for ourselves. Then, we start getting dressed, while just a few yards away there are wall-to-wall bikinis ... not a typical day at the beach."
The average Hampton Beach display is 100 fireworks, and the show lasts about 26 minutes. The set-up time for that show is about two hours.
"We're lucky now," Warren said, with a chuckle. "Before the fireworks came pre-built, we had some long, tense hours to assemble each tube. Then, we had to be extremely careful to transport and set up our products. That might not sound all that bad, but on some nights, like the Fourth of July, we might have 17 shows at 17 different locations. That's an awful lot of careful work with a great number of people to handle each operation."
Logistics for American Thunder can present a problem at times. Explosive materials, transportation, and adherence to OSHA and local safety guidelines can be troubling. Crews can vary in size from 5 to 25 members, and some shows can last over an hour. to include explosions choreographed to music. Jeff LeDuc, Fire Inspector for the Hampton Beach Village District maintains he has a great working relationship with American Thunder. "We've worked with them for a number of years. They're always professional. They watch the weather. They have a great product and handle it extremely well. They really are pros."
"Putting on a good show doesn't end with the last boom," Holly said, securing what appeared to be a pipe organ loaded with the makings for the grand finale. "We have to clean the beach of debris as well as possible at night. Then, we come back early the next morning to work with the regular clean-up crew. We leave no room for any disasters, big or small."
A show truly requires an artist's eye, and, often, a musician's touch to create the perfect symphony of color and spectacle in the sky. Warren spends many painstaking hours selecting just the right fireworks, to produce the perfect colors, to work in harmony with the preceding and following explosions, to work in exquisite timing to exact the greatest "oohs" from the onlookers.
Firing the shells for the celestial spectacle isn't simply a matter of striking a match to a fuse, running away, and hoping for the best. The mortars are precisely arranged on the beach. Each canister is electrically attached to a generator, and each mortar is fired only on direct command of the crew chief."
The fireworks are imported from China, and are becoming very sophisticated in thrill potential. Dazzling explosions in a myriad of colors and a cacophony of sounds seem to mesmerize each audience.
Individual viewers have his or her particular favorites. While some prefer the dramatic Japanese kamuro explosions, others savor the exquisiteness of the butterfly or the waterfall. Newly-developed fireworks appear to be flowery displays in the heavens. It is for that reason that they have been given names such as peonies, dahlias, and chrysanthemums.
Warren chuckles about his start in the fireworks biz. "Many people in the business are members of families who have been producing booms in the sky from generation to generation. I guess I'm a little different. About six years ago, I was on the Redding Chamber of Commerce. We decided we wanted to do more than have a bonfire. I seem to remember suggesting a fireworks display.
I, of course, was chosen to look into the matter. One, thing led to another, and I ended up with a company. Will I ever give it up? Not likely. Not many guys get to experience fireworks with their wives on a nightly basis."
Holly simply nodded and smiled.