HAMDEN ——BOOM. Boom-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.
For a moment, the night sky is painted with kaleidoscopic streaks that seem to sizzle as they fall to earth.
But not Phil Gauvin's crew. In spots around Connecticut and New England, they will remain for hours, sometimes days, disassembling the wooden racks that anchor the high-density polyethylene mortar tubes used to launch pyrotechnics that can be seen for miles. They will sweep up spent, cardboard casings, and then it's off to the next launching pad.
FOX CT PHOTOS: Top 10 Fireworks Displays in Connecticut
The Fourth of July usually means fireworks and a three-day weekend, except for Hamden's Pyro/Fx Entertainment Group, where it's all fireworks. The biggest pyrotechnic and special effects business in Connecticut has nearly a dozen shows planned around the holiday, including one in New Haven, scheduled for tonight atop a summit in East Rock Park.
Before the first fuses are lit, there are government permits to secure, designs to create and days of set-up at each site. The workforce grows from three to 60. Pyro/Fx owner Gauvin, 54, treats the final production like a show conductor might, except his luminaries are combustible with names like Aqua Blue Peony and Multicolor Swimming Stars with Crackling Flower Core and Jetting Comet Tail.
"Anybody can light a firework and let it go bang! There. Great," Gauvin said. As in "not great."
DATABASE: Find Fireworks, Fairs, Festival In CT
"This is a business where you're controlling the audience's emotions," the East Haven resident explained. "The music, the fireworks, the color, the timing, the sound, the sight. A little kid is sitting on a blanket with the family, watching the show … Your 'oohs' and 'aahs.'
"It's an adrenaline junkie's dream."
A Long Fuse
The fireworks, made in China, are not stored on the Hamden premises. Thousands of them are kept in secret bunkers around the state, as per directives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"Don't light a match," said Gauvin, chuckling.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Gauvin is a burly guy with gray in his 'stache and a pair of glossy black-and-white clown shoes in his office. On a recent afternoon, he wore a T-shirt with the Pyro/Fx logo near his heart. On the back, cartoonish rockets and bombs are haphazardly piled into a cardboard box labeled "CAUTION! EXTREME EXCITEMENT INSIDE!"
He was busy, though. He needed to check out a barge about a half-hour away. His desk was all scattered piles of paperwork, with barely a spot for a coffee cup.
A typical fireworks show launched from a barge will require permits from eight government and law enforcement agencies, Gauvin said, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the local police department and fire chief, and state and local fire marshals. An impact study of hazardous materials is kept on file, Gauvin said.
When the fireworks emerge from their bunkers hours before showtime, it comes after a months-long process that originated in the homeland of pyrotechnics.
The Chinese are said to have created the first firecrackers between 0 and 100 A.D., when alchemists made a mixture that included sulfur and charcoal dust, a combination now known as gunpowder. Bamboo tubes were then filled with the stuff and flung into fires.