You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach?” Well, you’d better hope that isn’t the case because as of this year I am now certified by the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD) of Natural Resources Canada (NRC) to teach the Display Fireworks and Special Effects Pyrotechnics courses as part of the national licensing program.

There have been a number of changes to the licensing program over the years, so I should explain what the program used to be and what it is now…

When I first took the Display Supervisor course the process went as follows: you spent the first half of the day in the classroom learning the theory (including things like safety distances and such) and then you’d go out into the field for a practical demonstration where students would be shown how to load display shells into mortars (the tubes from which fireworks are launched) and would get to light the fuse and send a shell into the sky. Assuming you did everything right and passed the class, you were issued a Level 1* Display Supervisor license and were automatically allowed to purchase certain product and fire Level 1 shows. Once you’d had a certain number of shows under your belt and were able to provide letters of reference showing you’d gained additional experience, you were able to apply to upgrade your license to Level 2.

The ERD overhauled the licensing system a while ago and decided that instead of allowing a complete newbie to run their own show, which might not be the best idea, they’d change the licensing program to something more graduated - so instead of being able to run a show as soon as you received your license, they changed to a graduated system where you first work as a Display Assistant for a number of shows - then, once you’ve gained experience (and letters of reference from show supervisors you’ve worked for), you can apply for your Display Supervisor license. This license is the same as the old Level 1 but under the new program they’ve broken down the additional operator capabilities into a set of endorsements as follows:

  • Large Shells (anything over 6-inch/150mm);
  • Nautical Shells (these are designed to be launched out onto water instead of in the air; they go off while floating on the surface);
  • Flying Saucers (sometimes referred to as Girandolas; basically a spinning disc which flies into the air while trailing sparks);
  • Floating Platforms (usually barges, though I’ve shot pyro off of platforms designed for use with movie cameras);
  • Rooftop, Bridge, Flatbed Trailer (self-explanatory)
  • Once you’ve gained experience with one or more of the endorsement areas (and, again, provide letters of reference from people who you’ve worked for who’ll attest to your ability to work with that particular item/items), you can apply for a license upgrade. It’s similar to how driver’s licenses work - your basic license allows you to drive a car and you need to have an endorsement for motorcycle, trucks with air brakes, etc.

    The classroom part of the courses used to be taught by ERD employees with someone like me brought in to run the practical demonstration part, but eventually the ERD decided that they wanted to shift the courses away from being taught by their own people and have them taught by pyrotechnicians. I don’t know why this decision was made, but if I had to guess I’d suppose it’s because since we are out in the field working with the fireworks we may have more insight about things which may not be specifically listed in the course materials but would be good to pass along. To this end, one of the companies for which I do a lot of pyro work asked if I would be interested in becoming a certified instructor for them; I said yes, they submitted my name and show log as proof of my experience (I suppose I should mention that I have all of my display endorsements) and I was approved as an instructor.

    The course materials are provided by the ERD and while we have to use their slides as given, we are allowed to add to them as we see fit. I must be doing something right as everyone who’s taken the course has passed, and my overall course evaluations have been very good.

    I’ve taught the Display Fireworks course 4 times now, and while I haven’t taught the Special Effects Pyrotechnics course yet I hope to do so soon - part of the delay is that, while the practical demo for the Display Fireworks course is now optional because you have to work as a Display Assistant before you can obtain your Display Supervisor license and purchase shells/shoot your own show, the Special Effects Pyrotechnics course does allow you to use a limited set of items once you’ve passed the course and obtained your license so we do have to provide a product demo, and it requires finding locations where we can do both classroom and field work. I am in the process of working out an arrangement with a colleague who’s starting an events management company, and with any luck we’ll be able to hold a course after I finish with Celebration of Light in August.

    * A bit of explanation is in order; Level 1 meant that you were allowed to shoot shells no larger than 6-inch/150mm, and they had to be fired from a “conventional site” - in other words, the ground. Shells larger than 6-inch/150mm, speciality items such as flying saucers or nautical shells, or firing from a barge or other “non-conventional site” required a Level 2 license.

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