For many people, an occasional backyard fireworks display is enough to fulfill their love of pyrotechnics. Others might take a seasonal job at a fireworks stand to more fully immerse themselves in their hobby. For others, though, there is only one way to scratch the itch: becoming a licensed, professional pyrotechnician. If you are considering this career switch, here are a few things you should know.
What Is a Pyrotechnician?
A pyrotechnician is the person in charge of a public fireworks display. A pyrotechnician has the ultimate authority over the safe setup, discharge, and teardown of the display, but he or she typically does not work alone. Instead, you will oversee a crew that assists with such elements as designing the show, building the set, connecting fuses and lighting devices, quality control, and other tasks.
In addition, you may need to file for permits and other legal documentation within the designated jurisdiction. If your show takes place at a theme park, local fair, or other place of amusement, you may also need to seek approvals from those in charge of the overall event.
How Much Will I Work?
In most cases, you will work on a contract basis, designing and staging one-off fireworks displays for an ever-changing list of clients. Many pyrotechnicians are able, over time, to develop a stable of clients that contact them for all their fireworks needs and regularly refer them to new clients. Still, it is important not to expect full-time work right away. Building a business as a pyrotechnician takes time, and most also have a day job.
The exception to this rule is if you are lucky enough to land a contract with a theme park or an amusement park that stages nightly fireworks shows. These jobs are hard to get, but are typically full-time during the season. If you happen to sign on with a park that is open year-round, you might not need a second job at all.
You must obtain a professional fireworks license. The federal process is fairly straightforward, but there are specific criteria that you are required to meet. If you have ever been convicted of a crime carrying a potential sentence of more than one year, have ever renounced your U.S. citizenship, are addicted to any substance, are currently a fugitive or under indictment, or cannot prove your ability to safely store unused fireworks, you will be automatically denied a fireworks license.
Otherwise, you will need to be fingerprinted and fill out an application, and undergo an exhaustive background check. If you pass, you will have a field interview with a representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Only once the interviewer is satisfied will you be recommended for a fireworks license.
State licensing requirements vary dramatically. Some states only require you to fill out a form with your federal fireworks license number, while others make you pass a written test, and still others require proof that you have worked as an assistant at professional fireworks shows. It is vital to check the latest regulations in your state and local area.
Some pyrotechnicians choose to obtain a professional fireworks certification through the Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI). This can give you an edge when applying or bidding for pyrotechnician jobs, and some states allow you to substitute this certification for licensure. Check with your state and local officials for details.
How Much Do Pyrotechnicians Make?
Contracted pyrotechnicians who work on one-off shows have a reasonable amount of latitude in setting their prices, provided that they are reasonable. Small shows may pay only around $200, while large and complex shows could pay upwards of $2000. Of course, you must subtract your expenses, including paying your crew, from the fee. To command the best rates, consider obtaining additional certifications that prove your expertise in the field.
If you sign on with a theme park or an amusement park, you will likely earn an hourly wage in the same ballpark as other skilled professionals working at the same location. However, these parks typically bear the costs of supplies and crew members themselves rather than deducting them from the pyrotechnician’s earnings.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready to purchase your next fireworks, or you are simply seeking information on using them safely and responsibly, contact Dynamite Fireworks today at (219) 937-4090.