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American Pyrotechnics Association says fireworks a booming industry

Photo: Disney Parks Blog
Photo: Disney Parks Blog

The 4th of July has arrived, which means Central Floridians will be either lighting up fireworks or watching big displays around the area.

Julie Heckman is the Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

She said the fireworks industry is responsible for big booms and business.

Heckman joined WMFE's Talia Blake to discuss the business of fireworks and how you can stay safe on Independence Day.

Listen to the full conversation at the player above.

Julie Heckman is the Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
American Pyrotechnics Association
American Pyrotechnics Association
Julie Heckman is the Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Talia Blake: On average, how much are consumers spending on fireworks for holidays like Fourth of July?

Julie Heckman: It is a very significant holiday, and Americans really love to celebrate their pride and patriotism. Last year, consumers spent $2.3 billion on the Fourth of July fireworks.

Talia Blake: Is that an increase or a decrease from the prior year?

Julie Heckman: It's a significant increase. It's been growing every year. Pre pandemic and 2019, industry revenues for consumer fireworks were $1 billion. It almost doubled in 2020 to $1.9 billion. So, we are on a trend of consumers wanting more and more backyard fireworks.

Talia Blake: Speaking of fireworks, some people won't just be lighting them up in their neighborhoods, some people will be watching extravagant fireworks displays at theme parks like Disney World, or at city sponsored events like Orlando's Fireworks at the Fountain or Altamonte Springs' Red Hot & Boom event. How much does it cost to put on big fireworks displays like that?

Julie Heckman: Those major events it's not just about the cost of the firework show itself meaning the product and the crew that sets it up. The price will vary depending on the venue. If fireworks are discharged from a barge on water, that's going to bump the cost up because you have the barge to pay for. Often there's a lot of infrastructure involved such as security, porta pottys, and street closures. So all of those local costs can add to the event. But typically we'll see a small municipal firework display run in the $20,000 price range, where a big city, and in particular those theme parks, those firework shows are well into the six figures.

Talia Blake: So I know you were just saying that, when it comes to the events that have fireworks, it's a lot of other things other than just the fireworks itself that can contribute to the cost. When it comes to even consumers who buy fireworks, what factors contribute into that price of making a firework?

Julie Heckman: I think the one thing that most people don't understand is that all fireworks are made by hand. It is a very intricate process, and it takes weeks to make a single firework. There's the process, (for example) think of paper mache. You've got the chemical composition. And if you're making an aerial shell, it's going to go into two half spheres that will be connected and then layers and layers. Think of paper mache, when you're using glue, paper, and string. Well, that has to dry thoroughly before you can finish the product. And so, I think about these large public events, and we're watching 15-20 minutes of fireworks and it probably took months to make those fireworks. But pardon the pun, they all go up in smoke in 15-20 minutes. Once you've seen the process of how they've been made, and actually that long journey, most of them are manufactured in China. The are ocean transported to the ports here, most come to the West Coast port. Then they're loaded onto the railroads, then they get to the rail yard and they are transported by truck to the firework facility. They are unload and stored for a length of time. Then they are separated and you pick pack a show for each community. So, there's a lot of details that go into preparing a firework show that I think the common person just doesn't even think about.

Learn more about the art of fireworks on the latest episode of 90.7 WMFE News arts and culture podcast Spotlight.

Talia Blake: But speaking of the common person, I'm wondering if there are any hidden costs or cost people might not think about when it comes to fireworks? So for example, several years ago in Milwaukee, two brothers were setting off fireworks and one landed on the roof of a building that then caught fire. So are there any costs people don't think about like damage or hospital visits for improper use of fireworks?

Julie Heckman: Absolutely. And I would say insurance is a big part of the professional display industry, the amount of insurance that they have to maintain, plus communities typically have to take out a policy as well. But for the homeowners, they need to be very cautious when they're using fireworks because sometimes a claim for fireworks landing on your roof may not be covered by your home insurance because it's not Mother Nature that created that problem. It was the misuse. So people need to be very careful when they're using fireworks in their backyard. They should be good distances away from the home. They should be discharged on a flat level surface. You should make certain there are no dry combustibles or structures nearby. And it's always a good idea to just water down the line before you engage in your firework activities, and especially if you have dry conditions.

Talia Blake: Lastly, you know, majority of states in the US allow some type of consumer fireworks, meaning people are allowed to set it off in their neighborhoods. What should Florida residents know when it comes to state laws regarding fireworks?

Julie Heckman: Florida has a very interesting law. Florida allows the sale and use of backyard consumer fireworks for pest control purposes. Given the volume of fireworks sold in the state of Florida, there shouldn't be a critter left alive because there are stores that sell fireworks all year round. I always use that example as one of the oddball laws that's out there, but it's really important. Florida has a lot of humidity. Florida can also be dry at times. Again, you want to be aware of the climate. You want to take necessary precautions. We always suggest having a bucket of water or a working garden hose nearby. But I think one of the things that gets left behind and it's really important, be responsible and be courteous neighbors. Fireworks, because of their noise, can startle pets, young children, the elderly, and our veterans who suffer from PTSD. So we encourage everybody, let your neighbors know if you're going to engage in firework activities so they can secure their pets and make certain that their loved ones are aware of what's going on. I would really like to recommend that our foundation the American Pyrotechnic Safety and Education Foundation released a new series of Consumer Firework Safety Videos to help educate the public on the proper use of fireworks. They're very brief, 30 seconds long. They cover everything from safe setup, keeping your audience safe, sober adult responsibility, and proper disposal which can be a problem for folks who don't properly dispose of their fireworks and unintentionally set their house on fire. We also have one on very popular items like sparkler safety and reloadable aerial shells. They are all available for free download at www.celebratesafely.org.

Tune in to Morning Edition on 90.7 WMFE News Tuesday mornings at 7:45 for more insights into Central Florida’s economy and how it affects you and your loved ones.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.
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