Behind the Magic of July 4 Fireworks Displays

Permits, Fundraising and Color Considerations Keep Planners Busy All Year
By J.D. WATSON | Jun 26, 2019
Artwork by: File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Southern Ocean County — This week, as thousands upon thousands of residents of and visitors to Long Beach Island and its mainland environs settle into local Fourth of July celebrations, cruising out on the bay at dusk with some friends and a cooler or two of responsibly quaffed adult beverages, radios tuned to Lee Greenwood or Kate Smith or, better yet, the Boston Pops playing Sousa marches, kids eating ice cream cones and watermelon, chasing fireflies, one cause brings them all together, one celebration recognizing a simple declaration signed 243 years ago by a handful of radical traitors meeting some 60 miles to the west of here. The municipal fireworks display is the epitome of the holiday for many. But the fireworks don’t just go off by themselves.

“We’ll start planning for next year probably the week after” July 4, said Joanne McAndrew, a volunteer with the Pinelands July 4th Fireworks Committee in Tuckerton.

The sentiment, if not the exact timetable, is shared by Carolyn Kasunich, general manager of Bay Village in Beach Haven. The July 4 fireworks in her town are a year-round operation, with fundraising efforts on behalf of the Red, White and Blue Committee beginning in August.

The costs for public fireworks displays can exceed $10,000. In Barnegat, a township resolution specified this year’s display not exceed $12,500.

Neither of the two fireworks companies hired for the three local displays in Southern Ocean County, Schaeder Pyrotechnics in Ronks, Pa., and Pyrotecnico Fireworks Inc. in New Castle, Pa., responded to repeated requests for comment (this being the busy season, after all), but Kasunich explained the cost of the display depends on a number of factors.

“There are different amounts depending on the size and type of the firework. It’s more than just the size of the shell, the length of time of the display, the overall amount we want to spend all figures into it,” she said.

Colors, too, are a consideration when planning a display. Most of the colors seen when the fireworks explode are due to minerals combined with gunpowder in the shell. For instance, purple is generated by manganese. However, plain old art works, too. Purple can be produced by combining strontium and copper minerals which produce red and blue, respectively. Red is produced by strontium or lithium; orange by calcium; yellow by cadmium or sodium; white by magnesium or aluminum; green by barium; blue by copper or cobalt; silver by titanium, magnesium, or aluminum.

The formations, themselves, are also a result of a combination of art, physics, chemistry and math. When a firework explodes high in the air, the explosion propels brightly burning particles, known as “stars,” in many directions. Changes in the size, shape, density, composition and placement of the stars within the fireworks shell result in changes in the shape, speed, direction, burn rate and color of the aerial burst. Add firecrackers, whistles or other noisemakers and you have the modern fireworks display.

Besides the fireworks themselves, there are myriad details which need attention.

“We need permits for everything,” McAndrew said. Because the preceding parade proceeds along Route 9 and the fireworks involve both the Tuckerton Seaport and Stanley H. “Tip” Seaman County Park, Route 9 is closed for most of the day. That closure needs approval by the state. “We have to reserve Tip Seaman Park. We even have to notify the Federal Aviation Administration. Of course, the fire marshal is involved.”

Kasunich echoed those observations. “We have to notify the FAA. Because we launch from a barge in the Barnegat Bay, we notify the Delaware Sector of the Coast Guard; we have to ensure we don’t impede the waterway. The Ocean County sheriff has a boat on site, the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security has a boat there all night.”

Describing the day of the big show, Kasunich explained why sometimes she loses sleep with worry for the fireworks delivery. “The barges are waiting when the fireworks are delivered. Schaefer usually delivers to Tuckerton first and then comes to us. Traffic is sometimes an issue.”

Traffic on the Causeway on the Fourth of July? Yup.

Transferring the fireworks from the truck to the barge is always the most stressful part of the day. “The hard part is loading the barge. Every time they touch one of the fireworks, they could blow up. One little mistake puts the finale at the beginning,” she said with the sound of awe in her voice, noting the company’s professionalism.

“It’s their job. Even when they are out on the water and the fireworks are going off, the barge maintains the proper position of each tube. When they go off, there are vibrations. But they don’t even look up at the fireworks in the sky. They are more concerned with the safety on the barge.”

Kasunich described how the firework shells are loaded into tubes, like mortars, in racks. “They look like wooden pallets on their sides,” she said. Each tube is fired by an electronic ignition, producing tiny explosions in each tube, launching the respective shells. Explosions and shells filled with gunpowder provide a good reason to involve the fire marshal.

Kasunich noted Beach Haven’s fireworks are usually planned to begin sometime between 9:15 and 9:40. “We have a test shot scheduled for 9 p.m.”

Tuckerton, according to McAndrew, draws people mostly from four towns: Little Egg Harbor, Eagleswood, Tuckerton and Bass River Township. As a result, each contributes to the fundraising required throughout the year. “There was even a golf tournament that raised money,” she said.

“All of the money raised goes to the fireworks and parade,” she added.

Kasunich appreciates these efforts. “Our fireworks are funded by donations by local businesses and residents of Long Beach Island.” She noted this is the 30th year Bay Village has hosted fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Not all in the area appreciate the seemingly ceaseless explosions that surround the Fourth, especially some people’s four-legged friends. “It can be really tough on a lot of dogs,” said Sara Hutchinson of Beach Haven West and office manager of Barnegat Animal Clinic.

It used to be the weeks in late June and early July that would have fireworks going off on a nightly basis. “Now, it’s all summer long.”

Cats, too, can be sensitive to fireworks explosions. “Animals’ senses are so much heightened. They feel more vibrations so the big public fireworks can be especially stressful,” Hutchinson explained.

Some dogs are so skittish, medication is necessary.

“Our dog was so scared, we used Trazodone,” she said. Trazodone is an antidepressant used to treat anxiety and is thought to work by increasing the activity of serotonin in the brain. “It can be given as needed. It’s been around a long time and is safe,” she said.

Hutchinson said there are other measures to be taken short of medication.

“You could put the dog in the innermost room in the house, one with no windows. Turn the air conditioning up,” she explained.

Thunder shirts, like those used to relieve anxiety in humans, may also provide relief. “It’s almost like swaddling a baby. They have mixed reviews. I like them because there is no medication and therefore, no side effects,” she continued.

Some people have used Benadryl to sedate their dogs, an alternative not endorsed by Hutchinson. “The dogs still have the fear, but now they’re sedated. I think it increases the dog’s anxiety in the long run.”

Before treating her dog with Trazadone, her dog wouldn’t go outside after dark. “Now, at least we can go for a walk in the summer after dark.”

Despite the effects of fireworks on pets, the displays continue, more popular than ever.

“I love it,” McAndrew said. “I still get the same sense of pride I had as a little girl watching the parade and the fireworks.”

Firework displays will be held at dusk on Wednesday, July 3 on the Barnegat town dock, following a 7 p.m. concert; at dusk on Thursday, July 4 over the bay off Bay Village, Ninth Street and Bay Avenue in Beach Haven, following a 7 p.m. concert at Veterans Bicentennial Park; and at dusk Thursday, July 4 at Tip Seaman Park, Tuckerton, the same day as an 11 a.m. parade in town.

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