When you look up at night on the Fourth of July, you see the work of a pyrotechnician--namely, fireworks that splash bright and brilliant colours against a canvas of black sky. Fireworks commemorate special occasions and add excitement to sporting events, rock concerts and other grandiose happenings, and pyrotechnicians are the ones who make it all happen.
Fireworks entertain and excite audiences in a variety of settings. Pyrotechnicians are in charge of setting up and operating those displays safely and professionally. They work to ensure that the fireworks launch at the correct trajectory and at the correct moments.
Depending on the extent of the display, pyrotechnicians may work alone, in small teams, or as overseers of a large crew of operators. They might ignite fireworks manually or by remote control, or by a combination of the two techniques. Pyrotechnicians often work as independent contractors, according to Mike Tockstein, a pyrotechnician who described the job in an interview with the career-information resource Salary Stories.
Fireworks displays put the principles of chemistry and physics to use, and for this reason, some operators have extensive background in engineering. For example, Tockstein has a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering.
Different states have different laws regarding the licensing of pyrotechnicians. To become licensed in California, for example, Tockstein logged two years' worth of crew experience at a minimum of eight displays. He filed a license application to the state fire marshal, obtained letters of recommendation from five licensed operators and passed a written exam. He also obtained a commercial driver's license that allows him to transport hazardous materials, so that he could drive the fireworks to the performance. He explained that crew members must be at least 18 years old, and licensed pyrotechnicians must be at least 21.
Pyrotechnicians work as hobbyists, or to supplement their main income. Work in the field is scarce, as only a limited number of occasions call for the use of fireworks. The career information resource Education Portal reports that most pyrotechnicians earn anywhere between £65 to £1,300 for a performance, and that full-time pyrotechnicians generally earn wages of £19 to £42 an hour.
Pyrotechnics requires extensive training, and the prospects of steady work and pay are proportionately small. Tockstein said he enjoys the job because it allows him to work up-close with fireworks, which he says have fascinated him since childhood. Because pyrotechnicians often work for the entertainment industry, they often have the ability to travel and enjoy concerts and other such events.