After 640 dreamstars, 700 flares, 140 (or thereabouts) wiring harnesses, 36 helium tanks and 164 helium balloons, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are finally over.

That’s only the stuff that I was directly involved with/responsible for; additional pyro included waterfalls, airbursts, confetti mines, stage pyro, roof pyro, barge pyro and no doubt other goodies that my mind has decided to blank out. In this entry I’ll try to summarize what went on behind the scenes – or at least my small part of the process.

My first day on the job consisted of the previously mentioned “induction training” and building airburst harnesses out of CAT5 cable and some nifty devices called Wago clips. I couldn’t find a listing for the specific model of clip we used, but this will give you a general idea of what they look like; imagine a connector with both ends like the clip on the right and you’ll be good.

The clips are great; you attach one end to the harness wire, plug the airburst lead into the other end and…instant connection! Plus, they’re reusable! We also used them for the flare wands, which were aluminum tubes housing a battery pack, arming switch and firing switch. The flares were a custom formula designed to give a specific shade of red and burned for 30 seconds – they were secured in a foam collar, which fit inside the wand, and the e-match which was taped to the flare was connected to the firing circuit using the aforementioned Wago clips. There were 163 flares used for the maple leaf pattern on stage, plus another 16 needed for the snowboarder’s ramp used at the start of the ceremony. Between rehearsals and performances I calculate that I set up just over 700 flares.

I didn’t get a picture of the wands as used here but never fear, there will be pictures…later.

The tappers and fiddlers had a different setup. The tappers had dreamstars (small tube fountains about 4 inches long) mounted on the soles of their boots; a copper tube had been glued next to the raised heel so there was sufficient space for everything to fit yet still allow the tappers to walk and dance. Each dreamstar was connected via e-match to a wiring harness which consisted of a battery pack with arming switch on one hip and a firing button on the other, with wires running down each leg in their costumes. We would attach the e-matches to the harness using crimp-type connectors, which had to be cut off after each performance. There were 27 tappers, each with 2 dreamstars, so when you need to assemble that many devices - plus extras because due to manufacturing variances they didn’t always fit into the copper tubes that held them in place - it adds up to a lot of pieces to be built.

(Click on an image to enlarge)

The fiddlers had a different firing system; it was self-contained on the bows so while the dreamstar was also secured in a copper tube at the end of the bow, the wires were connected via screw-down terminal blocks.

(Click on an image to enlarge)

The bows were prepped ahead of time in assembly line fashion; one person would do a circuit test on each bow to verify that it was functional (including the safety features), another would slide the dreamstar into the copper sleeve and screw it down; another would wind the e-match wire around the bow, and another would connect the e-match to the firing system. As the bows were readied they were hung on racks which would be wheeled to areas under the stage where the fiddlers would be issued a bow before they made their entrances.

Prepping the tappers was a bit different; because we couldn’t connect the shoes to the costumes until the tappers were dressed, we did things in stages. The first stage was a circuit check on the firing systems which not only allowed us to verify that everything worked but also gave us the opportunity to extend any leg wires that needed it – since we had to cut the connections off after each performance, eventually the leg wires became too short to use and they needed extensions. We couldn’t use Wago clips because of the amount of movement; there was too great a risk of wires being pulled out of the plugs.

The next stage was to place the dreamstars in the copper sleeves attached to the soles of the boots; after they were screwed down, the e-match wires were run up the “inseam” side of the boots and taped into place.

Once the tappers were in costume they’d come our prep area, sit down and put on their boots. Once this was done we’d run yet another circuit test to ensure nothing was damaged when they put on the costumes, and then we’d connect the dreamstars to the wiring harness and tape the wires onto the tapper’s legs so the wires wouldn’t tear loose – and in case you’re wondering, we weren’t taping down to their skin.

Once a tapper was fully connected they would move to the green room where’d they remain until it was time to go to their staging positions. As they moved from place to place I went with them as their safety person, looking oh so cute in my whites while lugging a fire extinguisher.

Oh, yes, the whites…that will be covered in my next entry.

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