Working for the ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s: Fireworks operator makes sky his canvas

Fireworks operator makes sky his canvas
Published: Jul. 4, 2022 at 6:15 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It’s the busy season for Allan LaValley’s Northern New York Display Fireworks company.

“We’re the local guys, my business is based out of Potsdam, so we kind of do the north country,” LaValley said. “We’re picking up more and more shows every year. We’ve got about 40 shows a year.

Pyrotechnics have captivated LaValley since he was a little boy. Now he’s been lighting up the sky for 27 years.

“It’s every American boy’s dream to shoot off fireworks and we get to do it to crowds of people,” he said.

But it’s not as simple as lighting a fuse.

“You have to be certified to own and possess fireworks through New York state,” LaValley said. “You have to have federal license through ATF, you have to have a storage facility for the fireworks when you’re not shooting them, and then you also have to have a shooter’s certificate of competence which is another certificate you need from New York state to actually be able to shoot them.”

So how do fireworks work?

“It’s just basically string that’s been soaked in black powder and it burns around five feet per second. All the shells are what we call a ball shell. This is a four-inch shell, on the very bottom is a lift charge. It’s a little plastic bag full of black powder and based on the weight of the shell and the diameter of the shell, there’s a certain amount of black powder in grams. That’s the way it’s produced,” LaValley said.

“Inside of this is a slow burn fuse that’s timed out, so it’ll reach 400 feet before it reaches the core of the shell where there’s more black powder which explodes the shell. There’s all kinds of different chemical compositions in here that make it burn in different colors. This particular shell is a brocade to big silver, so it’s a brocade like a big flower.”

Several hours of work, thousands of dollars, and two ashen hands later, it’s showtime.

“I look at it like the sky is my canvas and that’s where I get to do my painting with the fireworks,” LaValley said. “I like a busy sky. And it’s all about the ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s from the crowd. That’s what drives us, really.”

LaValley encourages everyone to be safe and smart if using fireworks. He says never light them off in your hand, make sure you have at least 70 feet of clearance, and, hard as it may be, avoid drinking any alcohol.

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