Planning and Safety Measures for Major Fireworks Displays

By: Olivia Fecteau Email
By: Olivia Fecteau Email

ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A fiery finale and loud explosion at the Dawg Dazzle Fireworks in Huntington Wednesday night is leading to questions about the safety measures in place for major fireworks displays.

Unlike the kind of fireworks available at roadside stands to set off at home, these major displays are often the end result of months of planning, including various permits, in order to protect the public.

“It’s careful selection of the pyrotechnic company, everything from safety on the river to going through and getting proper permits,” Major Todd Kelley of the Ashland Police Department said.

Kelley coordinates the display behind the scenes, taking care of everything from filing applications for permits from organizations like the Coast Guard and the Kentucky Fire Marshal to setting up where the barge launching fireworks will be in the river. His preparation for Independence Day starts as early as December.

‘Where we're at on water is probably the safest you can have,” Kelley said, noting that the water and surrounding hillsides act as buffers to protect people if a firework goes off-course.

James Wilson, who runs the pyrotechnics company responsible for the Summer Motion fireworks, said these fireworks are so dangerous, he and his workers set them off from a bunker more than 300 feet away from the barge where the fireworks are.

“One of those goes off, 400 or 500 feet around it is knocked out,” Wilson, who has been doing pyrotechnics since 1992, said.

His company begins setting up for the show the day before.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of hassle, but the enjoyment that you hear from the crowd at the end of the show – ‘Boom, yay’ – that’s what we do it, for the thrill,” Wilson said.

While safety is the number one concern, security is a close second. Kelley said they try to ensure security because fireworks can be modified into dangerous explosives for terrorism.

He said beyond safety and security, making sure people have an enjoyable experience is one of their biggest concerns.

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