Every year on the 4th of July there is a spectacular fireworks display in my hometown. And every year I watch the crew set up the display and wonder, “Where do these guys learn how to do fireworks? Is there a school where they learn to do this? Do they need a license? Are they nuts to be standing so close that huge array of explosives?”
Now all of these questions and more will finally be answered by Mike Tockstein of Pyrotechnic Innovations. Mike has been making crowds say, “Ooooh!” and “Aaaah!” for years, in addition to providing information through his website about careers and training in the field of pyrotechnics for those few brave souls who like to make things go BOOM!
We all love fireworks, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondered what it’s like to work with them. So is it just as simple as making things go “BOOM”? Or is there just a bit more to the cool job of Pyrotechnician? Let’s find out:
When people ask you “what do you do?” how do you describe your job?
I supervise the setup and discharge of public fireworks displays. I am responsible for training/recruiting my crew, knowing all applicable federal, state, and local laws, and most importantly ensuring the safety of my crew and the public.
What are the things about your job that you love?
I enjoy the technical side of pyrotechnics and the roar of the crowd at the end of the show. Besides, who doesn’t like to watch fireworks?
What are the things about your job that you hate?
I can’t say I “hate” anything, but the driving distances can be a nuisance.
What education, training, vocation or just plain luck would someone have to have in order to get a job like yours?
No formal education is needed, only on the job training, and knowledge of all related laws. I have a blog article on this exact topic: What Education Is Needed to Become a Pyrotechnician. You of course must take written tests and obtain multiple recommendations from other licensed operators during the application process. These requirements vary from state to state. The hardest part is finding someone to train you. Operators work as independent contractors, so you really have to know someone (or stumble across my website) in order to get started. As far as training is concerned, there are seminars you can attend, but the real learning comes during your apprenticing with other operators like myself. I do however, have an extensive training section on my website, which I send all my new guys to before they come out and work for the first time. Check it out here: Fireworks Training. This helps guide them in the right direction, and be more effective their first time out.
What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your professional training or your job?
I can’t think of one particular time, but I can say we have a good time sharing laughs during setup. Whether it be making fun of each other or messing with the new guy, we keep ourselves entertained with good camaraderie.
Additional information on these topics can be found on my blog article titled, A Pyrotechnic Career.