The Life of a Pyrotechnician Archive

What can a professional fireworks crew do for you?

There’s a world of difference between setting off some fireworks in your garden and hosting a professional managed display.

For most occasions, the former is all you need to mark a special event or host a party with close friends and family.  Professional displays are significantly more expensive than buying fireworks online and firing them yourself, but they do offer a huge number of benefits.

For occasions such as weddings, corporate events and those really big celebrations, it can be well worth spending extra to get the professionals in. But what do professional crews provide that you can’t do yourself? Here are just a few things for starters:

  1. Comprehensive insurance. So many people forget about insurance when planning fireworks events. But what happens if one of your fireworks damages a neighbour’s property, or if someone gets hurt and holds you responsible? These are the kinds of things that a good insurance policy can cover, and which comes as standard when you use a professional crew.
  2. A 100% safe display. Peace of mind is right up there with the top reasons to use a professional fireworks company. You can sit back, relax and enjoy the show in full confidence that an experienced, highly trained team is managing the display safely.
  3. Exceptional quality fireworks. The fireworks a professional crew use in their display won’t necessarily be the same ones that you can buy online. Professionals can use higher grade fireworks in their shows, some of which have simply incredible effects.
  4. Site management. A lot of work goes into site management, from choosing the site and planning a safe layout to supervising safety on the day. The professionals can handle all of this for you.
  5. Keeping an eye on the weather. Did you know that the weather can affect the quality of a fireworks display? Too much wind in the wrong direction can create an overly smoky show where the effects of the pyrotechnics are lost. A professional company use state-of-the-art resources to keep a close eye on the weather, so you can focus on planning other aspects of your event.
  6. Personalise the show. Want to choose the bride and groom’s favourite colours, include a favourite piece of music or use company branded colours? A professional designs the display from scratch, so they can include pretty much anything you like.
  7. Computer programming for split-second precision. This is technical work and requires a lot of skill, but it means that your show runs like clockwork.
  8. Make fireworks perform to music. You need time, experience, skill and a certain amount of specialist editing equipment to design a display that ‘dances’ to music, but the effect is spectacular.
  9. Create something truly unique and spectacular. Above all, a professional fireworks specialist can create that wow factor. If you really want to impress, it has to be a professional.

Need help with an upcoming fireworks event? Get in touch with the expert team at 1st Galaxy Fireworks, we’ll be happy to help.

Designing a Championship Show

Life of a Pyrotechnical

Designing a Championship Show

We had the delightful news last week of being drawn for the 2015 Plymouth Councils, British Firework Championship Event in August this year.

The competition has been running since 1997 and has been a big date in the industry Calendar from the moment it began. Its often seen as the most prestigious firework event in the UK, and 1st Galaxy have been proud to take part several times.

On each occasion in the normal competition the crew from 1st Galaxy Fireworks have been delighted to have been awarded 2nd and 3rd prize, and to have also taken part in the 2013 ‘Champion of Champions’ Event, where the best of the best from the previous 6 years were invited back to show off their pyrotechnical skills.

Plymouth 2013

The site itself is ideal for a large scale display, and the audience spectating area commands excellent views from all around the main harbour location, and regularly attracts many hundreds of thousands of people.

The site layout and rules are very strict, and the teams are ‘marked’ from the outset on their whole approach, delivery and execution of the actual display on ‘launch day’. Each competitor has to adhere to strict weight limits which control the total amount of explosives that can be used. This in essence ensures that there is a level playing field and that each firm doesn’t go completely overboard..on the basis that the biggest is the best.

Plymouth Champs 4

Each competitor is given a rectangular site on the ‘Mount Batten Breakwater’ which measures approx. 30m wide and around 8m deep. In this space the competitors squeeze in what is normally the best part of £45,000 worth of fireworks.

Plymouth Champs

Each display must last precisely 10 minutes, if its a second longer then points start to be deducted, and continue to be for every second the display goes over the prescribed firing time. The displays are started with three signal maroons, and are also concluded with 3 signal maroons to.

Its always a fascinating event, seeing how the various companies tackle both the technical challenge, the design aspect and of course the weather, which is often quite unreliable and ‘changeable’ down on the seafront.

Plymouth Champs Setup


This year our own plans are to build on the strengths and weaknesses that we’ve experienced in our previous displays at the site. Looking back at those shows we have seen some ares to improve upon, and also seen some sequences that worked well and also got tremendous crowd reactions.

Plymouth Champs 1

You can see our displays from past events on our YouTube Channel here –

2007 –

2010 –

2013 –

You can also see the draw for this years event here –

So the design process is soon to start..we’ll be taking the previous scripts and keeping what worked and tweaking what didn’t quite work, and returning to the ‘drawing board’ on a few sequences that didn’t inspire in the way we wanted them to..

Plymouth 030


Also in 2015 we have a whole host of new product coming in, and we’ll perhaps be having our widest variety of material to date that we’ve ever included in a single show..

More Blogs to come as the show details unravel..

Designing a Championship Show

Plymouth Champs Team

Down on the Farm part 2 – Darkest Lincolnshire

Previously in this thread …

Sam says “Yes we can”, and I set off for darkest Lincolnshire and a group of farmers who want some training in pyrotechnic bird scaring because “there have been a few incidents”!

Ok so the first training session went well, once I’d found the farm, a big commercial growing site as it turned out with a training Portacabin big enough to accommodate around a dozen farmers and game keepers from several different businesses.

Everyone was quite attentive, we identified a few issues, for example none of them had ever read, or were even aware that there were, instructions for use of the banger ropes in the box!  So we went outside to do a bit of practical – good job I’d put the wellies in, that Lincolnshire mud is quite deep and sticky, and discovered that the Jorge rockets are pretty good, and one of the problems with banger ropes is that you can’t tell very easily if they are alight!

OK so that was useful, and one of the things with the training sessions is that actually running them with an audience points up areas that can be changed, improved or even dropped, and thus modified we’re ready for the second session with another group and venue a week later.

Now things weren’t looking good. There’d been snow overnight, in fact about five millimetres so of course all the way from Ravenshead to the Nottinghamshire / Lincolnshire border (where it cleared up) we crawled along whilst the morning commuters failed to cope with the fact that the road was a vaguely white colour. Great, only another hour plus to go!

Eventually I managed to break away from the traffic and out into what struck me as a very Dutch looking landscape to the North East of Boston, and at least this venue had thought to put out signs for the training session.

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Another group of around a dozen, and this was clearly the hard core at the heart of the “incidents”!

There were various knowing nods and sideways glances at various individuals as I went through the training, along with one poor chap who was actually an employer and was trying to write Risk Assessments and get his employees to take safety seriously.

So what were the sorts of things that were causing issues? Well broadly speaking it was a lack of appreciation of how the devices were designed to work, and the potential consequences of not using them as the manufacturer intended, so nothing fundamental then!

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One group had a particular classic. They work for a relatively large farming operation, and the safety team were concerned that they were transporting pyrotechnic rockets in their vehicles. The solution was obvious, provide a solid container in the back of the vehicle for the safe transport of these rockets. So a number of containers were purchased and installed, the only problem being that the rockets with their sticks were too long to fit in! Simple said the safety team, cut the sticks down! I was able to reassure the workers that they were quite correct to refuse to use these containers on the basis that they weren’t fit for purpose!

Another issue was the difficulty of deploying devices in the field.

To start with there was the person who didn’t realise the need for launch tubes, when you could simply stick the rocket in the ground, yes quite often they didn’t take off or flew off in unpredictable directions, but that was poor manufacture wasn’t it?

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The other deployment issue was with the banger ropes. Now these are an interesting, if outwardly simple device.  In essence a relatively thick piece of rope about a metre long, with a series of bangers attached at intervals. The designed method of operation is to attach to a stout pole with the bottom of the rope six foot above the ground. The rope then burns slowly till the first banger is reached, lights a very short bit of Chinese fuse at the same time burning through the attachment to the man rope so that the banger should actually explode in the air as it falls to the ground. But this actually requires the operator to install posts to hang the rope from, and apparently that’s a problem!

Then there were several people who said that the biggest problem was actually lighting devices in the field, and you could certainly feel their point as the Siberian winds blew across the flat fields out the back of the training room, but sitting in the Transit cab to light devices out of the wind, probably isn’t the best idea, indeed one person actually admitted to having had something go off in the vehicle and being injured. Fortunately they agreed that the miraculous inventions of Portfires and /or piezo ignition blow torches could solve this problem.

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Finally there was the closet pyrotechnican, or should that be pyromaniac, now the first group had been relatively disinterested in practical work, this second group on the other hand wanted to have a go, it was at this point as I was handing out bits of piped match that it became obvious that there were certain members of the group who’s reputation preceded them!

Nevertheless no farmers were injured during training and they all went away with a new insight into pyrotechnics, including one older chap who came up afterwards to say that he used to load his own shotgun cartridges, but had found the presentation useful.

So Sam was right, yes we can provide training on the use of pyrotechnic bird scarers, and there are probably lessons to be learnt from the way that other industries operate not just in terms of addressing particular issues, but also in the fact that it always pays to periodically review what you are doing and whether there are other peoples or even other industries best practices that you could benefit from.

Down on the farm – Part 1 “Yes we can”, says Sam

1st Galaxy gets some interesting phone calls and requests into the office, and just before Christmas Sam was contacted by a farmers training co-operative in Lincolnshire – “Do you think you could provide some training for farmers using pyrotechnic bird scarers?”

Now sometimes I think Sam slips into “Bob the Builder” mode, and not just when she’s laying gravel for the drive! – “Yes we can” was of course the response, cue research into what pyrotechnic devices are actually available to the avian besieged farmer.

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Well naturally the first place to start was with those leading agricultural authorities, The Archers, no The Wurzels!

Cue deepest zummerzet :

No longer can I sleep at night, get peace of any kind,
That bird’ll be the death of me, he’s prayin’ on me mind!
If I chase him long enough, I’ll get ‘en by and by,
And celebrate me vict’ry with a girt big blackbird pie!

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Well that didn’t really help as their solution seemed to be “a gurt big stick” or a shotgun for pheasant, so what about our very own farming expert, but he’s more accustomed to “debollocking beasts” and apparently also favours a shotgun for bird control, which of course has it’s place, as the National Farmers Union guidance leaflet says “to reinforce the effectiveness of other measures”.

It turns out that there are basically three choices, gas cannons, rockets or banger ropes, with the latter two the closest to display fireworks. Now as it happens we sell a Jorge rocket for bird scaring, but to see what the banger ropes are like I needed to get in touch with Cumbrian based manufacturer Portek, and through them an agricultural supplier.

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Buy some Bird Scaring Thunder Rockets – Bird Scaring Rockets

“Well you sound as if you’re over 18, You are using this product for agricultural purposes? Do you have your credit card details?” and 24 hours later one of those freelance couriers turned up in her car with a plain wrapped box!

Now according to the manufacturers information both the rockets and the banger ropes are 1.4G although they appear to contain flash powder composition, and interestingly they have a UN classification of 0431 which makes them “Pyrotechnic articles for technical purposes” and is a distinctly different classification from the fireworks that we use on displays which are classified in the range 0333 – 0336.

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This is presumably how, unlike say Category 3 fireworks that we sell to the public which have to comply with BS7114 or EU  and must be labelled with details of what they do, how to use them, etc, the agricultural products can be more akin to Cat4 display materials with pretty minimal labelling.

So at this point I thought another conversation with the lady from Lincolnshire was called for – “Well we’ve had a number of incidents…” – OK so that gave me some ideas for the main thrust of the training, and at least I’ve not got to find out how to identify species like Corvidae and Columbidae  without Bill Oddie at your elbow!

Now I’ve just got to find this farm on the other side of Boston, in darkest Lincolnshire…

The Speed Trap – need for speed, or not!

It has long been held by firers that despite the number and size of maps on the office wall, or even the sophistication of mapping software in more recent years, there is a fundamental disconnect between the lengths of time the office says you will need to get to a display, and how long it will actually take. And that’s before you factor in the infinitely variable needs of individuals for Costa, MacDonald’s or personal relief breaks.

Then you have the two diametrically opposed approaches to setting up displays, on the one hand there’s the group who prefer to set off in good time, arrive relatively unhurried with plenty of time, get set up. And if all goes without complication, wonder what to do whilst waiting to fire. On the other side is the “time is money, and I want to spend as little time as possible on it” approach, which inevitably necessitates travelling across the country at breakneck speed.


Now the latter approach could become an increasing problem since according to Jeremy Clarkson the latest government tax on motorists, sorry safety initiative, is to move away from the current UK system of making speed cameras obvious in yellow paint, to covert cameras.

How long before we follow some of the Europeans down the line of banning sat-nav and other devices from plotting or detecting these cameras too?

On the other hand having recently travelled to and from a display in a van where the driver had a consistent approach to speed limits – Which was he ignored them, travelling at one point at twice the marked speed, or at another point as if the right angled bend ahead marked on the road signs and sat nav didn’t exist, you do tend to wonder if perhaps the government has a point. Always assuming of course that the scientific research is correct about the relationship between speed and accidents.

Indeed Mr. C and his side kicks have recently sought to dismiss the stopping distances published in the Highway Code as relics of a bygone age; before sophisticated servo assisted, anti-lock disc based braking systems arrived; with a series of demonstrations of just how quickly they can brake in various vehicles, or conversely how fast they have to go to require the Highway Codes stopping distances to brake in.


However your average display transporting van is a different kettle of fish to the sort of vehicles that Top Gear get their hands on, well most of them anyway, indeed there’s quite a difference in braking performance just between the various vans that Galaxy owns, with the high top transit in particular having a distinctly lack lustre approach to rapid deceleration especially when loaded!

So what do you have to know when setting out on a display? Well obviously one of the more sophisticated sat nav, either as a stand alone gadget or an app on some other form of device, can be an invaluable aid, particularly when it receives live traffic information. Although when it offers you an alternative route x minutes faster, how will you ever know if it was right, unless someone else travelling to the same show sticks to your original route?

Then there are the actual maximum speeds that you are legally allowed to travel along specific types of road at, in particular types of vehicles.

You may have noticed the increasing number of heavy goods vehicles clogging up single carriageway roads because of the limiters that many are now fitted with and the fact that legally they are required to travel at a maximum of 40 mph on such roads.


But despite the popular image of “white van man” there are legal limits for vans too, although they are different if they are car-based derivatives – where does a Berlingo sit? Car based van or van based car? And this is perhaps where the confusion occurs because the Government has set a series of different speeds and definitions of vehicles, including the group described as “car derived vans up to two tonnes maximum laden weight”. Now many people have seen the “two tonnes” bit, but not taken into consideration the “car derived” preface. A “Transit” or similar van is not “car derived”, so the two tonnes MLW is actually irrelevant as these vehicles are all in the same class as much larger goods vehicles with a MLW not exceeding 7.5 tonnes!

Thus the legal maximum speed limits for transit’s and the like are, subject to any posted speed limit, 50 MPH on single carriageways, 60 on dual carriageways and 70 on motorways, less if towing a trailer.

Worth thinking about as you put your pedal to the metal on the way to your next show.