As most of you know, I periodically work as a senior pyro for a local fireworks company. Work is certainly true, but I am a volunteer and do not get paid. I do this for the simple love of fireworks and the satisfaction of hearing the crowd cheer at the end of the show. This last weekend was probably the hardest show I have ever been involved with. Rain, mud, thunder storms, too much product, and not enough help. It reminded me of another activity that I did many years ago. I was a volunteer then as well.
A long, long, long, time ago….
Well not that long. But a while back….
I used to be a member of the US Air Force, and I was a member of Prime Beef. No, it’s not a crack squad of attack cooks, or parachuting butchers, though we did have butchers and plenty of cracks. Prime Beef stands for Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force. I was part of a group of civil engineers and construction workers that would periodically deploy, either on real missions, or more commonly on training exercises. We had normal mundane jobs during most of our service time; we were plumbers, electricians, metal workers, carpenters, and such. Periodically we would get activated to perform in some exercise or another and go off on a camping adventure. The adventures were all quite similar; it started out as a training exercise to learn to build a tent city for a hundred people. This was done with lots of energy and some skill with the goal of making ourselves a nice place to camp out. By the time we were done it wasn’t really camping we had power, heaters, hot showers, etc. If you take the TV show M*A*S*H remove the actual war, and substitute doctors with construction workers you would be not far off the mark. During most of the exercise we would try to make the best of the silly things we were told to do and try overcome boredom between activities. By the end we were all exhausted and ready to go home, but still had to clean and put away all the stuff that industrial size camping creates, like folding dozens of wet and muddy 60’ x 40’ canvas tents.
Putting on a large fireworks show brought back all these memories. We started out with lots of enthusiasm, energy, and drive. Then we found ourselves performing tedious work that we knew had to be done, and done right. The helpers and Jr Pyros probably thought all the precautions were tedious and silly. As the day progressed I found that a goodly amount of comradely was building, some from the love of fireworks, and a bit from shared suffering. Through wind, rain, thunder, lightning, sun, and bugs we persevered throughout the day. The next day was more of the same until the afternoon. It was then that the rains came, first a smattering of large drops yards apart then sheets of rain with the odd lightning sprinkled in to raise the anxiety level (water, pyro and lightning do not mix). Everything was covered and mostly waterproof so we were as prepared as we could be, it was time to wait. Sitting around for six hours, under an awning, watching our fireworks get rained on produces a combination of boredom and anxiety that only a military deployment can match. Finally, an hour before the show the skies cleared and we frantically completed final tests of the firing system.
Time for the show.
Kurthump……..Pow…… Aaaaah….”That was a nice one”.
Repeat for thirty eight minutes.
After two days of work the show was over in what seemed only a few moments. We took our bows in front of a loving audience who could not see us and didn’t care who we were. We were tired and we knew that we had lots of hard work to do before going home.
Like my deployments in the Air Force when the exercise is done everyone has to pitch in and clean up. The spectators got to go home, have a beer, and play with their puny little fireworks, then burp and go to bed. The pyros stayed to hunt for duds, coil up the cable, make giant muddy wads of wire and aluminum foil, scrape mud and tape off of the mortars, load them into the trailer, and generally police the area. Then most of us probably had a beer, burped and went to bed. That’s exactly what I did. Five hours later I was up out of bed and back at the shoot site to do a daylight check for duds. This is important; kids should not play with commercial grade boom-boom. It’s my job to find them first. And yes, I did find some…who says volunteering doesn’t pay?
Putting on a fireworks display and going on a military training mission have another amusing similarity. They are both much more fun in hindsight than during the actual experience. I find this true for most truly cool things I have done in my life. Objects in the mirror are not only closer than they appear, they often look better.