Behind the scenes of the Edgartown fireworks

From New Hampshire to the Edgartown Harbor, it takes a team to deliver the pyrotechnics.

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Stacked high and wide in the back of a midsize Budget truck were boxes labeled “explosive.” Early Thursday morning, six men carefully worked in an assembly line to transfer the boxes from the vehicle onto a barge in Vineyard Haven Harbor. They couldn’t move fast enough.

The whole process was over in about 15 minutes, but the day’s work was far from over.

The boxes held about 1,500 firework shells — a paper-wrapped sphere of pyrotechnic ingredients — all for Edgartown’s firework show Thursday night to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The fireworks were set off from one of the barges owned by Ralph Packer, longtime mariner and owner of R.M. Packer Co. It’s a service he donates to the town.

This year’s fireworks vendor is Pyrotecnico FX, a switch made by the town from Central Maine Pyrotechnics after 25 unexploded shells were found by the fire department and the State Police bomb squad on Chappaquiddick Beach on July 5 last year.

In preparation for Thursday, the pyrotechnics team set up racks on Packer’s barge earlier this week, readying for the arrival of the shells. Each rack has rows of black plastic tubing, which the shells are loaded into before they’re fired off. 

The shells started at Atlas PyroVision, a fireworks store in Jaffrey, N.H., and owned by Pyrotecnico FX. They were picked up and driven to Woods Hole in the early hours of July 4 to make the 5:30 am ferry, one of the Steamship Authority boats designated for hazardous materials.

At around 6:15 am, the boat docked in Vineyard Haven, and after the truck of explosives drove down Beach Road from the ferry terminal to Packer’s property, the long day ahead officially started for pyrotechnicians.

This is the high season for fireworks businesses. Pyrotecnico FX does about 250 shows for the Fourth of July week just in New England, Dominic Rogalski, lead pyrotechnician, said.

For the Edgartown show, a design team from the live events company made a specifically scripted show for the patriotic celebrations downtown. 

“A scripted show makes for a better show,” Rogalski said.

It’s a generally large area in Edgartown’s harbor, so Rogalski is able to use both three-inch and six-inch shells for the display, he said. Shells can range from two to 12 inches.

Once loaded into the tubing, cables run from the shells to the firing system, what could be called a motherboard. Rogalski plans to man the motherboard from an enclosed hut on the barge. Based on the show’s script, Rogalski uses electric matches to remotely set off the shells.

Alexander Schaeffer, Edgartown Fire chief, compared 1,500 wires all connected to one system to “spaghetti.” Schaeffer is in charge of logistics for the fireworks, and met the team at Packer’s barge an hour after dawn to oversee the operation’s progress.

He did another inspection later, before the show started at 9 pm, and then he was up again the following morning to search the barge and beach for unexploded shells or other hazards.

The Fourth of July isn’t a day off for Schaeffer, or for every other Island fire, police, or medical personnel. In fact, with a career mostly spent fighting fires on the Island, Schaeffer hasn’t actually celebrated in years.

After the pyrotechnics team finished unloading the truck, one of Packer’s men readied the tug boat to move the barge to the final destination: Edgartown Harbor.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Always nice to see the back story of how things are done. I do not think we got our tax payers money worth from this company. Edgartown spent the same money as last year and the display was not close to what we are use to. Even if they say costs are up because of the Biden administration this show was way off the mark.

    • Did the cost of Edgartown fireworks go up under the Trump the administration?
      Things are never as as good as they use to be.
      The old days were the best?

  2. Fireworks were great 👍
    The delay in action and denial of the Covid-19 pandemic was the reason that America it’s citizens along with other countries that procrastinated and delayed their response to deal with the situation immediately after knowing.
    BM, It is like when you loose your job you slowly have less money. The financial loss is not instant, like dumping out a glass of water.
    It’s called a delay.

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