The Church of Pyro

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The best laid plans

Posted by Office-Bob on 20 Oct 2008 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

I found out today that a gig scheduled for November 1 has fallen through. While it would have been interesting (a broadcast-to-China benefit for earthquake relief), when you take a few things into account it’s just as well that there’s not going to be any pyro:

  • When we had the first meeting with the production team a couple of weeks ago they didn’t have the stage design completed, which made it impossible to start planning the pyro as we didn’t know how much room we’d have to work with (important for safety, and also important for getting your show permit approved; fire departments don’t like it when you wait until late in the game to file for a permit and, like Bruce Banner, it’s not a good idea to make them angry).
  • At the same meeting it became clear that they wanted more (and specialized) lighting equipment than the original quote they were given; when something like that happens it usually means that the money for extra gear has to be taken from somewhere else in the budget.
  • We were only going to have one day for load-in and setup instead of the 2 or 3 we’d have preferred - this meant that we’d likely not have anything like waterfall effects or snow/bubble machines because we wouldn’t have time to install them in the rigging, and we’d have had very little time to assemble stage boxes because, lest we forget, the day before November 1 is October 31, which is Halloween, which is when a number of us are busy setting up and putting on shows of our own.
  • So to sum up the pluses and minuses:

    Unknown stage design - MINUS

    Lack of load-in/setup time - MINUS

    Trying to do prep right before Halloween when I already have a show to build and shoot - MINUS

    Not having to deal with the hassle of driving downtown and maneuvering around the venue - PLUS

    Not having to deal with potentially neurotic TV directors and producers - PLUS

    Not stressing about having two back-to-back shows - PLUS

    On the whole, I think it balances out.

    Popularity: 33% [?]

    A fireworks compromise that might work

    Posted by Office-Bob on 16 Oct 2008 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    It’s been a while in coming, but the City of Vancouver has created a new policy that might help reduce the problems with underage/irresponsible people doing stupid things with consumer fireworks on Halloween.

    Here’s a PDF that briefly explains the new process; it’s a matter of filling out a permit application and passing a small test. Once this is done you can print out a permit which will allow you to legally purchase and use fireworks within the city limits.

    Considering the original suggestion back in 2006 was to completely ban consumer fireworks in Vancouver, or to require users to obtain a federal Display Operator’s license, I’m happy to see that the City has backed off from such draconian ideas and has made it easier and more practical to enjoy fireworks in a responsible manner…however, I’m not sure how effective this is going to be for the following reasons:

  • Federal law already required users of consumer fireworks to be 18 or older (more on this later), yet it wasn’t hard to find underage people shooting fireworks with seeming impunity…this means that either an adult was buying fireworks and giving/reselling them to minors, or retailers were selling them illegally.
  • For the sake of argument let’s assume that the new permit system works properly; it only covers the City of Vancouver so even if you’re old enough to purchase and use them legally, you could go to a vendor located outside the city limits and buy from them without requiring a permit.
  • To the best of my knowledge the federal age requirement for purchasing consumer fireworks is still 18 or older, but Vancouver is requiring people to be 19; this could raise issues with the legality of the Vancouver rules if someone felt strongly enough to challenge it. Personally I doubt that will happen, but you never know.
  • Announcing new regs two weeks before Halloween is in my opinion not the best idea, particularly when it requires retailers to take extra steps to ensure the legality of their sales; I hope the retailers were warned ahead of time that this was in the works rather than reading about it in the newspaper, as I did today.
  • I guess we’ll have to wait until after Halloween to see how well this works. I hope it does work because then it’s possible that other municipalities, including those that have completely banned the use of consumer fireworks, might rethink their positions and relax their restrictions.

    People of Vancouver: You’re being given the opportunity to show that a reasonable compromise can work…

    don’t screw it up.

    Popularity: 19% [?]

    Mixed Emotions

    Posted by Office-Bob on 05 Feb 2008 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    I received word today that a fireworks display I was supposed to do this weekend out in Richmond has been cancelled; apparently they decided they didn’t want to have fireworks.

    I’m of two minds about the news. On the one hand I do enjoy putting on a display even though the amount of work involved, both before and after, is a lot…but considering what the weather’s been like lately, the idea of being stuck out in the cold and wet wasn’t all that appealing, especially since I’m heading to Western Winter Blast (a fireworks convention in Arizona) next week and the last thing I need is to come down with yet another cold - I’ve had too many of those recently.

    (Yes, I do have rain gear and yes, I do wear it if needed but that doesn’t keep you from getting cold, or even a little bit wet; it just keeps you from getting soaked through.)

    Elliot, the guy who books me for most of my shows, has an event going on in Surrey on Friday night and while I can’t help him with that, I did offer my help doing any prep he might need, and I’m also going to loan him my cordless drill as I won’t be needing it this weekend. He told me he might need me to do a run to Purolator on Saturday to pick up some show product that hasn’t arrived yet; things like that are no big deal and I’m happy to do it for him as he’s been very helpful to me in the past with things such as letting me use one of his high-end firing systems for my Halloween school show at no charge.

    This cancellation will give me the chance to get a few extra pre-convention errands run that I would have had to try and cram into Sunday afternoon, plus I won’t be spending part of my weekend bent over in the cold rain, lugging a garbage bag and picking up spent fireworks pieces from the Richmond City Hall lawn.

    Things like that are worth losing a shooter’s fee for.

    Popularity: 21% [?]

    Today officially opens the Halloween Silly Season in British Columbia

    Posted by Office-Bob on 12 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    You know it’s fall in Beautiful British Columbia when:

  • The leaves start turning
  • The rain gets colder
  • The kids start phoning you to ask if you sell fireworks.
  • I don’t know why fireworks at Halloween is such a big thing here, but as it gives me the opportunity to do one of the things I love - putting on displays - I’m not going to argue the point. However, because I’m listed in a number of online fireworks directories I receive the occasional call asking where I’m located and if people can come over to buy fireworks.

    First off, I do not run any sort of retail operation - I place my product order when I’m contracted for a gig and store the materials in a separate warehouse.

    In addition to the fact that I don’t do retail, while I’m not the best at guessing people’s ages it’s usually not hard to tell from someone’s voice if they’re old enough to be purchasing fireworks (there are two types, one of which doesn’t require a Fireworks Supervisor’s license but does require that you be at least 18).

    I’ve already received 2 calls today (one from a kid who, when I told him that he couldn’t buy product unless he was 18, had someone else - only marginally older, judging from the voice - call to inquire about buying), and I expect it to continue through to the 31st.

    While I’m not going to risk legal action by selling fireworks to minors, I’m not a complete ass about it; I give them the name of a distributor I use and remind them of the age requirements. Of course, the distributor I refer them to is really good about checking the ages of people buying from them…

    (insert Evil Grin here)

    …so I’d imagine the kids probably end up buying from one of the local storefronts that open the week before Halloween unless they can get an adult to buy stuff for them.

    I’ve been dealing for years with kids coming up to me while I set up shows to ask if they can buy stuff, but it’s only in the last year that the calls have started coming in. As long as it doesn’t get overwhelming I won’t worry much about it, but if I start getting swamped I may have to set a message on my home and cell phones and deal with things via voicemail.

    I am, however, thinking of making a sign to put up at my show sites that, based on how these conversations uaually go, will say the following:

    Sorry, these aren’t for sale.
    No, these have already been paid for my my client.
    No, I don’t sell fireworks.
    No, and even if I did, you’re underage and I’d be breaking the law.
    I can give you the name of a distibutor, but they’ll be verifying your age anyway.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a show to design and product to order.

    Popularity: 21% [?]

    From the O-B Vaults - Celebration of Light

    Posted by Office-Bob on 02 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    From time to time I’ll be posting entries from Office-Bob V1.0; here’s the very first entry from December 2, 2002:

For those of you that have watched fireworks displays and wondered what’s involved in setting them up, I present to you the journal that I kept while working on this year’s Celebration of Light (an international competition that takes place over 2 weeks in Vancouver, BC). The next time you “Ooh” and “Aah” over the pretty explosions, please say thanks to those of us who bust our asses to put on the shows for you:

    Day 1 - Thursday, July 25 
Spent the first part of the day loading the fireworks and gak into container to be moved out to the barge, then we went out. Interesting thing — the parking passes are not only good for the Vanier Park boat launch but are also apparently good for two parking areas across the bridge and within easy walking distance to the Production/VIP area; I may have to make a trip on Sunday to see exactly how to get there…it’ll make getting home on show nights a lot easier if I don’t have to walk across the Burrard Bridge and then deal with the Vanier Park/Bard on the Beach traffic jams!

Pulled all the steel mortars out of the magazine in the staging area where they’re stored…hard, hot work. Laid out the mortars and barrels for digging in later.

    Ran over my left big toe with a heavy case; when I got home I found that the nail was raised and when I did some extra probing I found that there was a buildup of blood under the nail; I’ve drained it and we’ll see how it goes. It’s not as painful as it was before so hopefully this will not cause too much trouble for the rest of the show.

    Spent a good part of the afternoon trying to piece together the plywood used for flooring in the staging area; it would have been nice if there had been some kind of markings to identify which pieces went where, especially since the magazine had absolutely no ventilation…while it wasn’t as strenuous as digging in the mortars it was worse because they, at least, had a breeze! We finally got it figured out and before it’s taken apart, we will mark the sections for next year.

    We then moved to digging in the 200, 250 and 300mm mortars. Again, hot work but the breeze helped a bit. One of the last things we did was unload the boxes for Italy’s show (the first one on the schedule) and move them to staging. I spent a lot of time in the container and again there was no ventilation; I felt as if I might pass out on more than one occasion from the heat and lack of air but I made it through. Of course, they were some of the heaviest boxes…

    Miscellaneous cleanup, then off the barge by 6:30 pm. I stopped at Home Depot to pick up a new pair of gloves as my left glove developed a couple of holes during the day; considering that they’ve been through at least 3 fireworks shows, I’m amazed they lasted as long as they did. We’ll see if this brand has the same kind of staying power; I usually buy Watson but HD didn’t carry them so I had to buy something else (they’re still in the car and I can’t recall the name right now).

    Decided to treat myself and picked up some KFC on the way home; fed Max and then myself. Next stop — shower, then wash my filthy work clothes, play with Max and wash some dishes before bed.

    Day 2 - Friday, July 26 
We finished digging in the 200, 250 and 300mm mortars today, and then we laid out all the smaller mortar racks for Italy’s show (75mm up to 125mm), and to finish the day we worked on setting up the firing system (putting the slats on the rails and attaching the cables, then foiling the cables). The weather was overcast for the better part of the morning and even when the sun came out it wasn’t too bad because of the breeze — but I hate to think how bad it would have been if we’d been doing this last week.

We got our crew gear today — t-shirts (2), baseball cap and crew ID.
Hans (the crew chief) asked me what I was doing tomorrow, to which I replied that I assumed I was working on the barge — which, it turns out, I will be as tomorrow is a short day (we’ll be done by noon) and he wanted a couple of people to help out. Considering your pyro career hinges on how well you work with other people (I know of 2 pyros that aren’t asked to work some shows anymore because of attitudes or work habits), I am always grateful to be asked if I am available and even if I had not planned on being there, I would have said “Yes.” I wonder what we’ll be doing? I don’t think we’d be putting up the waterfall although I could be wrong; I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. At least I should be able to put in an appearance at the Jericho fencing tournament tomorrow afternoon, even though I won’t be competing (too damn stiff!). The Vancouver Sun is sending someone out tomorrow so I have to be sure and wear my crew shirt for photos.

    Day 3 - Saturday, July 27 
Short day today — we finished foiling the firing system, which entailed crawling around on the outside of the barge (on the “wrong side” of the railing) to cover cables. Why is it that I can move around a pitching barge and work with explosives without a problem, while going on Hell’s Gate at Playland scares the crap out of me? I think it’s the fact that on the barge I have a certain amount of control over the situation, whereas on the ride I have to trust that the designers, engineers and safety inspectors weren’t having a bad day when they did their jobs. We wound up foiling the cabling that goes across the main barge to the second one twice — the first time we didn’t have it wrapped/taped securely enough and the foil started tearing. We were finished and off the boat by 1:00, at which time I went to Jericho and visited my fellow SFU fencers and then went home. I love crawling around under winches and getting grease encrusted in my arm and leg hair…

    Oh, and the media wasn’t the Sun; I don’t know who they were.

    Day 4 - Monday, July 29 
The Italians arrived today — Paola, Giacomo and Diego. Paola had some trouble with seasickness; she’s also 4 months pregnant but I don’t know if that had any effect on her queasiness. I found out later that one of the Italians was puking in the head but I don’t know if it was Diego or Giacomo; either way the water was very rough today.

    We dug in all of the mortars — including a 250mm that we missed doing on Thursday/Friday. Things moved so well today that we managed to get the first barge completely loaded, foiled and plasticked. If we keep moving at this pace there’s a good possibility that we’ll get to leave early on Wednesday.

I was expecting my toe to give me trouble today as I was wearing my steel-toed boots, but I was pleasantly surprised that other than the usual “my feet hurt because I’ve been on them all day,” I didn’t have any problems. Spent some time stacking sandbags in front of the firing booth…lovely, hot, hard work.

    There was a bit of drizzle this morning but it went away, and there was enough sun coming through the cloud cover to give me a bit of sunburn…I’d better remember to put on sunscreen tomorrow regardless of how it looks outside.
    The TV crews are coming out tomorrow…yeehaw.

    Day 5 - Tuesday, July 30
Spent the day loading mortars; I also prepped candles and fountains and we got started on the wiring. The water was extremely choppy today and the barges were pitching quite severely…good thing that I don’t get seasick as long as I’m within sight of land. Tomorrow we’ll finish the wiring and put up the fountains and waterfall. I still haven’t decided if I’ll watch the show or jut come home and catch up on my sleep.

One of the guys on the crew is in the IATSE effects dept. and I picked his brains regarding welding and what I should learn first — he said I should learn MIG, arc and TIG in that order so now I know what I’ll need to look at for the fall semester at BCIT.

    Day 6 - Wednesday, July 31 
We finished off the wiring, then spent some time setting up the waterfalls including foiling and squibbing. Then we foiled the wires going to the slats and covered the wires on the ground with sand and we were done — we were off the barge by 3 PM. I decided against watching the show because I wanted to get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s digging in, and even with being able to park closer to the viewing area it would take some time to get home. Since we have Sundays off I’ll go to the Saturday shows and then I can sleep in afterwards.

    Day 7 - Thursday, August 1 
Started setting up the Canada show today. Fiatlux is using the FireOne system which is a computerized firing setup; instead of connecting to the slats the lines are run to a number of boxes, which are connected by cable to the computer.
    We got some rain in the afternoon so for a short while we had to work under tarps, which I absolutely loathe as it’s hot and humid crawling around under them.

    Anyway, we got the mortars dug in but there weren’t a lot of them as this show is using a lot of candles…I mean, A LOT OF CANDLES. We got most of the second barge loaded and wired, so we should be able to get everything else done tomorrow except for the Bengales, which will likely be done on Saturday (and another short day, hooray!).

    I really should remember to put on sunscreen, though — I burned the back of my neck again.

    Day 8 - Friday, August 2 
We’ve got most everything set up but it hasn’t been easy; Fiatlux’s show plan was based on the barges being wider than they are (even though they’d been given the dimensions beforehand) and the past 2 days have had a lot of stuff being shuffled…and reshuffled…to try and work it into a semblance of co-ordination. It didn’t help that there was a huge weather problem last night and a lot of stuff got knocked around on the barge — we didn’t have any damage to the fireworks but we had a lot of cleanup to do, including restacking some of the sandbags in front of the firing booth.

    We loaded the first barge today and are almost completely finished except for some stragglers that they’re trying to find; it doesn’t help that the warehouse mixed up shells for the finale with the stuff for the main show. Since I worked the last (short) Saturday I was given a pass on tomorrow’s short day, which means I can even get in a nap before I have to head downtown for the show; it also means I don’t have to worry about rushing home to feed Max, which would have been necessary as Mary’s heading to the Interior tomorrow morning to spend the long weekend with a friend that lives in Falkland, as well as attending a photo exhibition/art show at Mission Hill.

    Day 9 - Monday, August 5 
The Canada show on Saturday was absolutely awesome — the music and synchronization was some of the best I’ve ever seen and apparently the judges were impressed, too — according to one of the crew, they said that Spain would have to go all out to beat them.

    Well, I think Spain might have heard about this because when we arrived at the barge this morning, I couldn’t believe the sheer number of mortars that were waiting to be dug in…we ended up using every 125 and 150mm rack (and we had a lot of racks) as well as all the single 125 and 150mm mortars — and I’m not sure, but if we didn’t use up all the 100mm racks we came damned close!

    Surprisingly (at least to me), we managed to get almost everything dug in before lunch and by the end of the day, the first barge was pretty much finished. Hans even told us how pleased he was at our progress and while he’s not the type to yell at people, getting actual praise from him isn’t all that common so we must have been doing well.

    One nice thing about the Spanish setup is how they did the candles — they came already attached to frames so all we had to do was screw them onto 1×3s to hold them in place; no digging required, just some sandbags to hold them in place, squib and foil them and they’re done.

    The Spanish team is almost identical to last year’s — 3 of the people are the same but the fourth is someone I haven’t seen before…not that it matters as I can’t understand much of what they say anyway.

There’s a documentary crew that was filing us today and will also be there tomorrow…they spent some time shooting me as I loaded mortars into a wheelbarrow, so I guess stardom is just around the corner for me. Wow.

    Day 10 - Tuesday, August 6 
Rain this morning so we had to work under tarps — they did tent them up so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and I was working on candles in the staging shed…of course it has its own problems like a roof with lots of leaks which, as you can imagine, is Not A Good Thing when working with pyro.

    I found out more details about the documentary — it’s called “Playing With Fire” and will be shown on CBC Newsworld’s THE PASSIONATE EYE sometime next year. We’re supposed to get a copy when it’s finished so we’ll see if there’s any shots of me doing something other than carrying mortars in a wheelbarrow or loading sandbags.
    Anyway, we fell behind due to the rain so we worked an extra hour and got started on the wiring. With the extra time we’ve spent today, we should be able to get off early tomorrow.

I almost forgot to mention what happened at lunch today — Hans was doing his annual demo with leftover match and other items from the earlier shows; he set off a couple of different squibs so we could see how they varied in their effect and then he fired off some quickmatch and spollettes (delays). When he wanted to show us what happens if you have 2 pieces of quickmatch next to each other, he set them off but didn’t realize that the second piece of match was a hangfire — and it went off just as he was picking up the board he’d attached it to! Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, but what ended up being funny could have been quite serious. Of course, the camera crew got it on tape so perhaps it’ll end up being in the documentary…

    Day 11 - Wednesday, August 7 
The pace has finally gotten to me because this morning I started doing THE COUNTDOWN, as in “one more show to go and then we’re done…”
We finished wiring and connecting, and we also spent time putting all the steel mortars we aren’t using back into the storage room; it was sunny and hot today, of course, because the storage area isn’t ventilated. I also found out that apparently we will be working on Sunday and not leaving the final cleanup and put-away for the night crew…damn. Oh well, putting away what we did today means there’s less of it to move Sunday, and at least I’ll have Monday to recover before heading back to work, and Elliot hired a couple of extra people to help out on the night crew.

    One nice thing happened today — the Spanish team brought some t-shirts and sweatshirts with their company logo; I picked up a blue sweatshirt as the t-shirts were a bit small for me and besides, I don’t have many sweatshirts so I was quite happy to pick this one up.

    Day 12 - Thursday, August 8 
Today is the first time I have completely drained my Camelbak…it was that hot!
    We dug in most of the mortars for the final show (an intro, 6 minutes per team and then a finale) but even after we started loading more mortars had to be dug in as apparently the firing design for the Canada show was based on a 2 month old plan (?!?)

    The Spanish team seems to think we can finish everything by tomorrow night, but I have my doubts…I suppose we’ll see. In any event Saturday should be a short day.

I still don’t know for sure what’s happening on Sunday; I asked Hans if we’d be coming in late (like we did last year) for cleanup and he said he didn’t know. On the other hand, we’re having a crew dinner Sunday night at Da Pasta Bar.

    Oh, yes — I found out who won the competition but I’m not going to write it until after it’s officially announced at the Saturday finale.

    Day 13 - Friday, August 9 
Robert Heinlein once said (and I agree with him) that the five most beautiful words in the English language are “Pay To the Order Of,” but if I was forced to only use four words I would say that they would have to be, “Don’t Come In Tomorrow.”

(Of course the French have taken this to the ultimate; their cheques just say, “Payez.”)

Yes, we finished everything off today; it took us an extra hour but nobody was complaining as the thought of having a day off tomorrow (instead of a short day) was too good to pass up. While we will have to work Sunday to finish the cleanup and put-away for the year, we don’t have to come in until 9:30 so I can get some extra sleep after Saturday’s finale.

Nice thing that happened today: I had borrowed a pair of crimping pliers from Michel (the production manager) because they’re not available locally — we use special telephone connectors for the wiring and the pliers are made to work specifically with them — and when I returned them to him, he gave them to me! Even though I now have my own pair of pliers I’m still going to see if I can source them locally as we may start using them for Canada Day shows and the like.

    Day 14 - Sunday, August 11 
Canada won the competition. Spain’s finale had about 95 misfires; a number of them were due to the delays again (I hope they raise hell at the factory), one squib was positioned next to the match instead of against it so it didn’t fire, and an entire rack of candles didn’t get wired (???).

    When we got to the barge this morning we had a very pleasant sight…the night crew had completely put away all the mortars, so all we had to do was pack up the firing system and cables and the miscellaneous gear and load it into the containers on the mini-barge — we were done and off the barge in 3 hours, which is a pretty good way to earn a day’s pay. There’s a crew dinner tonight and after that, it’s goodbye to the barge (and most of the crew) until next year.

    Popularity: 20% [?]

    I’m leaving on a jet plane…which means I have to pack again…

    Posted by Office-Bob on 29 Jan 2007 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro

    I’ll be heading to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in a couple of weeks to attend Western Winter Blast 18 which means I have to start thinking about packing. I’m also thinking about having to leave the house around 4 am so I can be at the airport by 5 am for a 7 am flight…but I’m trying not to think about that as much (yawn).

    The last time I attended WWB I took my regular suitcase plus a smaller bag which contained my safety gear, plus my laptop bag and another bag for my camcorder; while I’ve since invested in a Pelican case that holds the laptop and camcorder and will fit under an airplane seat, I definitely want to reduce the amount of stuff I’ll be taking.

    Now that I know the WPA provides hard hats and safety glasses for the range volunteers I don’t have to bring my own, and I don’t need to bring my steel-toed boots, so that will get me down to one suitcase - but there’s a balance to be struck between taking whatever basic clothing is needed, plus some “good clothes” for some social events I’ll be attending…and then there’s the question of how many pairs of socks and underwear do you take when you’re away for a week - do you take enough so you don’t need to worry about laundry, or do you wash your dainties in the sink and hang them to dry on the shower rod? Do I take my rain gear just in case there’s a repeat of the torrential downpour of 2 years ago, or do I resort to the “engineer’s raincoat,” aka large garbage bags, which I can buy down there?

    I’d heard about a site, One Bag, which discusses “The Art and Science of Travelling Light,” and I checked out their information about bundle wrapping which is supposed to help reduce wrinkles and creasing. I did a dry run on the process today and while I’d originally planned to take pictures of the process, I decided against it because I came to the conclusion that while bundle wrapping can certainly be useful in the right circumstances, it really doesn’t do much for me because my suitcase is large enough (although within airline guidelines) that I’m able to lay my clothing down (mostly) flat, which means not a lot of wrinkling, which means the main reason for doing it is gone.

    I thought that there might be a space savings of some sort in the suitcase but as far as I can tell, it didn’t change - while there was extra space on the ends of the suitcase because the bundle was tied down in the middle, it was thicker than the normal packing process so the free space hasn’t changed as much as it’s been relocated.

    One good thing that did come out of trying it out was that I realized that with my new, pared-down clothing inventory, I’d have more room in my suitcase to bring back various pyro-related souvenirs (Dear TSA - no, I am NOT carrying any illegal items in my suitcase or carry-on , KTHXBYE)

    It was certainly an interesting experiment, and if my suitcase was smaller I could see doing it, but as it stands right now bundle wrapping isn’t going to save me any time, effort or space…plus, it would have meant I’d actually have to do some ironing on my kilt to fix the pleats.

    Popularity: 20% [?]

    The Paper Chase - Pyro Style

    Posted by Office-Bob on 02 Jan 2007 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro

    Now that the last fireworks show of the “season” (New Year’s Eve) is over, I wanted to tell you about the fun I had getting my show permit this year.

    This was the 6th year I’ve done a show for this particular client and despite the remote location and usually inclement weather (if it’s not cold, it’s cold and wet), it’s something I look forward to for a number of reasons:

    1) With some minor exceptions (salutes and shells over 6 inches), everything is hand-fired - by that, I mean I’m out there, flare in hand (well, at the end of a long holder), lighting individual fuses and feeling the THUMP as each shell fires.

    2) The scenery is beautiful; The image below will give you an idea is to where I’m located (click to enlarge):

    3) The people are very nice; they put me up for the evening on one of their boats and provide me with food and drink (although, of course, I abstain from alcohol until well after the show); this year, it was a lobster dinner, very tasty.

    4) Most importantly, they dig the mortars in which means I don’t have to…needless to say, this makes me a happy pyrotechnician.

    I knew the permit application process was going to be a bit more difficult this year, not only because I didn’t have very much lead time (about a week) but because I’d been informed that I needed to deal with a different fire dept. than in the past - previous permits had been issued by the North Vancouver Fire Dept. but according to the Commodore of the yacht club, the property was actually under the City of Coquitlam’s jurisdiction.

    Armed with this information and all of my supporting documents (permission letter from the yacht club, proof of insurance, copy of my Display Supervisor license and a list of shells being fired) I handed it over to the Coquitlam FD on December 22nd…

    …only to be informed on the 27th that it wasn’t their jurisdiction and I should contact the GVRD (Greater Vancouver Regional District).

    I did a little research and found that, indeed, the land where the yacht club’s outstation is location was in fact in the GVRD “Electoral Area ‘A’,” whatever that means, so I called the GVRD…

    …and was told that they didn’t handle permits and I’d need to contact the provincial Ministry of Forests.

    I called the MoF and talked to a very helpful gentleman there who said he’d look into it if I’d send him copies of the paperwork (thank goodness for scanners and e-mail)…

    …and was told the next day that they couldn’t issue a permit because there wasn’t enough time to do a site inspection, and I’d need to talk to the North Vancouver Fire Dept. because they’d be the ones responding to a fire anyway.

    Okay, so now I’m back to where I started but since I’ve dealt with the NVFD before I should be fine, right?



    Apparently, despite being issued permits in the past a site inspection was never done, and the captain now in charge of Fire Prevention (the section that handles fireworks permits) wasn’t about to issue a permit without seeing the site; while I completely understand the need for this and his reasoning behind it, we’re now down to the 29th of December with no permit for a show scheduled to happen in 2 days. Solution? Pay a fee to the NVFD so the captain could spend his day off doing the inspection and take him up there by boat…if he was okay with the layout and satisfied that I could meet all safety requirements, he would hand over the permit - and it also gave him a chance to meet me in person.

    We went out on the 30th, the location was checked, I answered some questions and finally, satisfied that I knew what I was doing, the permit was handed over - we were back in business!

    The show went well although I had a few duds because of an impromtpu downpour that soaked some of the fuses, but most of the shells went off and the big finish - an 8-inch shell - was as spectacular as we’d hoped. The customer and audience were happy, I was happy (although wet and cold), and it would appear that we’ll be able to forgo the site inspection next year as long as the same captain is working in Fire Prevention - however, I will make sure we apply for the permit in plenty of time in case they want to look the place over again because, if they do, with enough advance notice they’ll come out in the NVFD fireboat and we won’t have to pay to have the inspection done.

    Happy New Year!

    Popularity: 20% [?]

    Lost in translation

    Posted by Office-Bob on 04 Nov 2006 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    Since most of the fireworks these days come from overseas, especially China, I always enjoy seeing the new labels and/or misspellings on the products I order.

    I’d like to start by presenting a multi-shot cake called Anti-Terrorist Fighters:

    Unfortunately, the guy on the side of the cake looks nothing like Jack Bauer:

    (I know they misspelled “Terrorist,” but pointing that out is just too easy)

    Next, we have a charming little cake called Sizzling Sparkler:

    The description on the side, unfortunately, doesn’t really make me want to light the fuse:

    I’m thinking this is a really bad translation of “projète,” but I could be wrong…at least “mortar” was misspelled in both official Canadian languages!

    I’ll end this post with an example of good (left) and bad (right) labelling, side-by-side:

    Popularity: 14% [?]

    Rack ‘em up, shoot ‘em out…

    Posted by Office-Bob on 04 Nov 2006 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    The Halloween shows that I do for local schools include a lot of roman candles and other tube-type items; I used to stick them in buckets of sand but since that frequently caused problems due to pieces not being properly secured and tipping over (my volunteer loaders are great people, but when you’re continually putting things into sand and pulling them back out they don’t always get tamped down as well as can be) I decided to try something different this year and build some freestanding candle racks:

    Since candles come in different sizes, I needed to be able to load more than one of each size at the same time and after studying the problem, it turned out that using a 2 ft. length of 1×6″ pine would allow me to cut lots of holes, allowing me to use any combination of candles I could want. The bottom piece is cut to accept the tubes with a “plate” at the bottom to keep them from falling through, and because fuses can be on the top or side depending on the manufacturer, there’s plenty of space between the top and bottom pieces to access them:

    (You may notice that the third firework from the left doesn’t go all the way down; it’s a small piece with a spike on the bottom that’s designed to be stuck in the ground so I drilled a small hole in the top that the spike would fit into)

    I also designed the racks so the stabilizing feet could be removed and attached to the sides, allowing me to stack the racks and save space:

    While the racks performed very well, I did notice that I’ll need to make some changes to the bottom piece because a few of the multi-shot candles bounced while firing, which caused them to pop out of the bottom recesses and tilt a bit (not enough to cause problems but certainly enough to cause concern); it’ll be easy enough to add some depth to the bottom pieces, and I have plentry of time to get them ready for next year’s show.

    Popularity: 13% [?]

    When will people Just. Fucking. Get. It?

    Posted by Office-Bob on 04 Nov 2006 | Tagged as: Rants, The Church of Pyro

    British Columbia is one of the few provinces (if not the only one) where fireworks are sold and used on Halloween; I put on a community show every year at a local school, and there are other shows in various locales.

    In addition to the responsible use of fireworks, though, there are always people who screw things up for others - this year, for example, a pet store was damaged by a fire caused, authorities suspect, by someone shooting a roman candle through a mail slot and over on Vancouver Island, a teenager was seriously injured when either a pipe bomb or a firework placed in a copper pipe (reports vary) exploded and he was hit in the head/face with shrapnel.

    Serves the little bastard right for being a dumbass (metal pipe and fireworks? WTF???), as far as I’m concerned…but I digress. At least he was 18.

    Every year there are people who abuse fireworks - there are plenty of kids setting things off despite laws that you must be at least 18 to buy or use them, which means that either they’re buying them illegally, stealing them, or some asshole of an adult is buying them for the little darlings and letting them run amok.

    This also means that every year, there are people who clamor for a ban on fireworks.

    You’d think that as someone who holds the highest level of display fireworks license offered by the federal government I’d be happy to see local municipalities taking steps to ban the illegal use of fireworks…but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I have a problem with putting laws in place to restrict the use and sale of fireworks - I don’t - but most of them are trying to use a tactical nuke to sway a fly. What really annoys me is when people write letters to the editor of the local papers and demand bans because they keep hearing kids setting off fireworks and firecrackers, when:

    1) Kids (i.e. under 18) shouldn’t be setting off fireworks at all;
    2) Firecrackers are restricted even more than regular fireworks - they’re similar to display fireworks (those big beautiful shells you see on Canada Day or July 4) in the sense that you’re supposed to have your permits and property permissions in place before you can buy them.


    Ahem…damn, the oxygen level is rather thin up here on this soapbox; I’d better step down.

    (deep breath)

    There, that’s better. Now, where was I? Oh yes…

    The following is the text of a speech that I gave to the Vancouver City Council this past September when they were looking at passing a bylaw requiring anybody wishing to set off what are called “family fireworks” (roman candles, fountains, etc. - hell, even sparklers!) to have a Display Fireworks Supervisor license issued by the federal Explosives Regulatory Division:

    Good morning (afternoon); thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

    I am here to express my concerns regarding the Policy Report currently under review, and to provide alternatives to certain proposals in the report.

    Before I begin, I would like to provide a brief personal background:

    1) I hold a Level 2 Fireworks Supervisor license as well as a Theatrical Pyrotechnician license.
    2) I have assisted the Explosives Regulatory Division with both Display and Theatrical training courses by providing the practical portion of the courses that cover proper firing and safety procedures.

    My main concern involves the recommendation that a federal Display Supervisor license is required to discharge family fireworks. This is impractical for the following reasons:

    1) The Display Fireworks course does not cover family fireworks; such a course would be excessive in regards to safety and procedures for most areas and deficient for others.
    2) Display fireworks courses are not held on a frequent basis; the ERD holds them in various locations across the country usually once a year –while there were 4 classes held in British Columbia in 2006, only one of these was held in the Greater Vancouver area…and that was in May.
    3) Before someone receives their Display Supervisor license they must work on at least 3 display fireworks shows over a 5 year period which means that the person has to be lucky, or resourceful, enough to obtain work on enough shows –family fireworks shows do not count towards this license.

    This means that even if people took the display course this year because of proposed requirements such as this – and I know from personal experience that a number of people did take the course for this reason – it is extremely unlikely that they would have been able to obtain their Display Supervisor license for this Halloween, and would quite possibly not have it for 2007 either. This would appear to contradict the part of the report claiming that there is sufficient lead time for people to obtain the necessary licenses before next Halloween. Also, I do not know if anyone has discussed this with the ERD so I do not know if their infrastructure extends to increasing the number of classes or adding family fireworks training to the course.

    The report also mentions that “…the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been lobbying the United States Government to ban the use of Consumer Fireworks.” While this is true to a certain extent, the International Fire Marshalls Association’s 2006 Model Fireworks Law makes reference to displays being “…handled by a competent operator, licensed or certified as to competency by” – and I would like to emphasize this - “the authority having jurisdiction.” I will return to this later, as it is important to my recommendations.

    Regarding the report’s mention of environmental and social implications, I would suggest that the people who would modify and/or discharge family fireworks in violation of any bylaws are likely to do so regardless of whether they can legally purchase fireworks in Vancouver or not. You can compare fireworks to alcohol and tobacco – if underage people want it badly enough, they will find a way to get it, either by finding someone who will sell it to them illegally or who will buy it for them illegally.

    I do not object to the idea of restricting who can purchase and discharge family fireworks, but I believe that the report as it stands is overly restrictive and does not take into consideration my stated concerns regarding the current licensing process for fireworks supervisors. To that end, I would like to make the following recommendations:

    1) Because of the points I have mentioned, I would request that any decision on this report be postponed pending further review.
    2) Instead of requiring a Display Supervisor license to discharge family fireworks, I would suggest that a special “family fireworks” course and license be developed, either at a municipal or federal level, that would provide proper training and allow the authorities having jurisdiction to be assured that the person discharging the fireworks is qualified. To that end, I am offering my services to help develop and operate such a course.
    a. An alternative would be to allow those people who have taken and passed the ERD Display Supervisor course – now classed as Apprentices - to be able to purchase and discharge family fireworks.
    3) The report mentions a permit fee paid by fireworks vendors and says that it doesn’t cover costs, but it doesn’t mention a fee for a show permit. If there is no fee currently being charged, the city should consider implementing such a fee. I have done shows or training courses in Surrey, Burnaby and Pitt Meadows and all have charged a fee, ranging from $100 to $200. In addition, if my proposal for a family fireworks course is accepted a fee can be charged to cover the costs of the course.

    Thank you for your time.

    The result: 4 hours after speeches from me and groups such as fireworks distributors, the SPCA, Children’s Hospital and the Vancouver police and fire departments as well as various questions being asked and answered, council passed a resolution that:

    1) “Nuisance fireworks” (those that only make noise) would not be sold this Halloween.
    2) The fire dept. should get together with the fireworks distributors and develop a preliminary training program for family fireworks, a first draft to be ready by mid-February of 2007.

    I don’t know if I’m going to be called upon to make good on my offer to help with such a program but I will gladly do so if asked; as it is, I’ll be calling my distributor contacts soon to ask them if they’ve been contacted by the fire dept. and if not - well, we’ll just have to take it one step at a time.

    Popularity: 16% [?]

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