“They get an opportunity to choreograph and paint the sky.”

That’s what Steve Marson, owner of Pyro City retail stores and Central Maine Pyrotechnics, said of a pyrotechnician’s mindset before July 4.

A licensed pyrotechnician, Marson said his crews will perform 50 shows Thursday in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. His stores also will have 75 percent of their annual sales within 10 days of the holiday.

Marson spent the morning Wednesday helping wire 2,000 fireworks for Portland’s Independence Day celebration. He said he would have two other technicians and a crew of 20 on the job with him Thursday.

Each shell is individually wired to a control board, Marson said, which gives the technician instant control over the shell’s launch. He spoke fondly of past practices when each shell was lit by hand with a flare, but admitted the new electric control board has made things more convenient.

Marson got his start in pyrotechnics 47 years ago when he helped set up a show and handed fireworks shells to technicians. That day, he said, he learned how good it felt to work all day on a show and see the product of his labor in the explosion of fireworks.

“That first shell got lit off and I’m sure my eyes were as big as silver dollars,” Marson said. “You get hooked on the black powder and the smoke from it.”

Marson said he travels to the country of China to design and inspect the fireworks used in the company’s shows. And on one trip there, he planted the seed for the creation of “water kegs,” a type of firework that is shot into the water and then springs out 50 to 100 feet.

Steve Marson of Central Maine Pyrotechnics, in a Dec. 12, 2011 photo. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Marson said those were born from a misfired group of shells during a show in the central Maine town of Rome. He said 10 shells were fired into the water, but still ignited, producing a pleasing visual effect. He said he mentioned the scenario to producers in China more than a decade ago, and the outcome was the now widely used water keg.

“Everybody thinks they’re duds, but then they come out of the water,” Marson said. “It’s just a whole different experience with fireworks.”

One project the company is working on is developing new patterns and colors, he said, perhaps resulting in shells that can be fired in a group to create an American flag. Marson said similar effects are being used in fireworks shows in Dubai, where funding for fireworks production is far greater than in central Maine. He said cutting-edge products will slowly make their way into smaller markets as they become easier to produce on a large scale.

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city of Augusta, said he was looking forward to the display from Central Maine Pyrotechnics. Dahlin, who said he has organized fireworks displays for more than 30 years, said he often jokes with other city officials after the show that Central Maine Pyrotechnics “brought the wrong truck” of fireworks because of the unexpected quantity.

“It’s an amazing show,” he said. “This new technology with fireworks is amazing.”

Marson said each pyrotechnician has to have insurance, either through a company such as his or for themselves. He said there weren’t any big misconceptions about pyrotechnicians, except maybe some people think they are crazy.

“It’s like the guy who is … the avid hunter; they love hunting,” Marson said. “People that light off fireworks love the enjoyment of being an artist performing for people.”

As part of the contract with Augusta, pyrotechnicians must take care of permitting and licensing with the state fire marshal’s office, according to Dahlin. He said the city’s Fire Department is on standby and spectators are not permitted within 500 feet of the fireworks launch point. Dahlin said no one has been injured during his three decades of experience.

Retail stores are also feeling the pinch from increased demand from consumers. Marson said his Pyro City stores, with eight locations around the state, have 75% of their sales within 10 days of July 4.

Tim Bolduc, owner of Patriot Fireworks, with locations in Greene, Livermore and Monmouth, echoed Marson’s point, adding that it was busy Wednesday afternoon, but much busier Saturday.

Chris Bennett, left, Jessica Bennett and David Leach shop for fireworks on Wednesday at the Pyro City store on Western Avenue in Manchester. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Bolduc said most of his customers are buying variety packs of fireworks to cater to children and adults. He said the variety packs include sparklers and other larger, louder items.

“People like a little bit of everything,” he said. “The more variety they can get, the better.”

Bolduc said his company’s sales have plateaued and dipped since consumer fireworks were allowed to be sold in some municipalities. He said customers were jumping to buy consumer fireworks immediately, but have since lost interest in the products. He said holidays sales have been steady, but some wet weather around the holidays has hampered business in previous years.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported five fireworks deaths in the U.S. in its 2018 Annual Report. A further 9,100 injuries were treated in hospitals in 2018, with more than 5,600 of them happening between June 22, 2018, and July 22, 2018. Of those 5,600, 64% of those injured were men. The report found no significant trend in fireworks-related injuries from 2003 to 2018.

The fire marshal’s office said in its annual legislative fireworks report that Maine fire departments reported six fireworks-related fires with a total of $23,521 in property loss in 2018. The Maine Forest Service reported eight fireworks-related forest fires in 2018, burning a total of 4.6 acres. Four of those fires were in Hancock County, two in Penobscot County and one in each Washington County and Oxford County.

The report said 22 stores were licensed in Maine, creating $33,000 in revenue.

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