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Fireworks : Firework Display - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
July 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm by v
FIREWORK DISPLAY GENERAL SAFETY INFORMATION
If you are organising a firework display for the first time, its recommended you obtain a copy of the HSE publication “Giving Your Own Firework Display and How to run and fire it safely” This can be purchased directly from HSE books, Tel 01787 881165. The publication reference is HSE 124. Although not exhaustive when it comes to setting up fireworks, it does cover most aspects of holding an event and highlights areas which the authorities may be concerned with.
In particular, I would suggest that the safety distances quoted should be considered as minimums, although Cat3 states 25m is sufficient, many of today’s fireworks require at least 50m separation from the spectators. This especially applies to rockets, the use of which should always be reviewed on the day given the wind conditions at the time. Also make sure you are well loaded with insurance as one mistake will see you bankrupt.
THE FIREWORK SAFETY CODE
Young people should watch and enjoy fireworks at a safe distance and follow the safety rules for using sparklers. Only adults should deal with the firework display and the lighting of fireworks, they should also take care of the safe disposal of fireworks once they have been used.
Only buy fireworks marked BS7114.
Don’t drink alcohol if setting off fireworks.
Plan your firework display to make it safe and enjoyable.
Keep fireworks in a closed box and use them one at a time.
Read and follow the instructions on each firework using a torch if necessary.
Light the firework at arm’s length with a taper and stand well back.
Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks.
Never return to a firework once it has been lit.
Don’t put fireworks in pockets and never throw them.
Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators.
Never use paraffin or petrol on a bonfire.
Make sure that the bonfire is out and that the is safe before leaving.
Did V Ever Read The Firework Safety Code?
FIREWORK CURFEW COMES INTO FORCE
A firework curfew that will restrict the use of fireworks to reasonable hours has now come into force, People who break the curfew could receive a hefty fine and a six month jail term, The Home Office is also planning to allow police and community support officers to hand out fixed penalty notices to under 18s who have fireworks in public places or break the curfew.
The curfew will be extended until 1am for some traditional and cultural events, including Diwali Night, the Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve. It will also begin at midnight on 5th November. As part of a government crackdown on firework yobs, it will also be against the law for retailers to sell fireworks that are louder than 120 decibels.
The changes aim to improve safety and crack down on anti social behaviour, Consumer Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said “Fireworks can be fun, but can also cause misery for communities, especially to vulnerable people such as the elderly, and animals, introducing a curfew and a noise limit, will help to balance the law so that people can still enjoy fireworks safely whilst cracking down on their anti social use” the changes also include a new licensing system for the supply of fireworks all year round, retail and wholesale. There are also improved controls on the import of fireworks.
DISCLAIMER “As the law and regulations are changing all the time, please check with you local authority/health and safety/police etc for up to date regulations. The above details are only intended as a general guideline”
DEFINITION OF FIREWORK
A device for producing a striking display of light, or a figure or figures in plain or colored fire, by the combustion of materials that burn in some peculiar manner, as gunpowder, sulphur, metallic filings, and various salts. The most common feature of fireworks is a paper or pasteboard tube filled with the combustible material.
A number of these tubes or cases are often combined so as to make, when kindled, a great variety of figures in fire, often variously colored. The skyrocket is a common form of firework. The name is also given to various combustible preparations used in war.
CHOOSING THE FIREWORKS
This is only a basic summary of selecting fireworks for a firework display and what the Bonfire Societies use.
One of the most popular fireworks, but only used in small numbers for public firework displays. A rocket motor propels the head to a height of anything up to 1000ft from where the head will burst into coloured stars or bangs. The sky rocket flight is normally stabilised by a wooden stick which, together with the motor casing falls to the ground afterwards.
This ‘fallout’ can be a hazard to spectators, greenhouses and other vulnerable objects, a characteristic which along with an unpredictable flight pattern in anything above a light breeze and their relative expense make them a less popular firework choice for display operators.
These are the most common single fireworks seen at a large bonfire society firework display. A shell can be either spherical or cylindrical in shape, consisting of a central ‘burst’ charge of gunpowder surrounded by coloured stars or other effect units.
At least one delay fuse leads from the burst charge to the bottom of the shell, to which is fixed another charge, known as a ‘lift’ A fast fuse (quickmatch ‘leader’) is attached to the lift for lighting. A lot of the shells are are hand made in house with Fletching having one of the loudest ever in the UK (probably)
Shells come in sizes ranging from 2″ to over 16″ and are fired from tubes known as ‘mortars’ which are about 12-60″ in length. The lift charge will propel the shell to several hundred feet (about 100′ for every inch of diameter), and will take about 1 second per 100ft to reach its height.
During the ascent, the delay fuse will burn to the centre of the shell, igniting the burst at the top of the trajectory, and the fire is transferred to the coloured stars which are thrown out across the sky.
Because there have been a number of accidents involving shells (a shell in a mortar tube is effectively a huge gun) these fireworks are no longer sold to the general public and are only available to ‘professional’ display operators.
The mortar tube is often made of cardboard, in the event of a shell bursting in the tube the debris will only be flying paper. A good alternative which is more weatherproof is HDPE which is used for high pressure gas and water pipes. The mortar tubes are assembled into wooden racks which are then staked firmly to the ground.
“The Worlds Largest Single Firework Was Set Off At A Festival In Japan In 1998, The Shell Weighed Over Half A Ton And The Burst Was Over A Kilometer Across”
SALUTES AND MAROONS
Instead of a shell with coloured stars, a salute or maroon is a single loud bang, often used to signal the end of a display.
A mine is similar to shells in that they are also fired from tubes. They do not have a burst charge, so the lift shoots stars upwards out of the tube usually in a tall bright shower.
Made in a long cardboard tube, a roman candle may have several effects, which fire one after the other with a short delay in between.
Similar bore candles (14mm) have up to 10 ‘shots’ of coloured stars (pearl, dragon), loud bangs/flash (flashing thunder), whistles, coloured bombettes (violet ball, peacock) while larger candles (up to 40mm) may have more elaborate effects such as silver coconut bombettes and crossettes (single coloured star splitting into 4 stars) A roman candle is rarely used singularly in a big firework display, so frames are made for V, Trident and Fan formations.
Cakes are one of the most useful and varied of fireworks, a cake, is a box full of tubes each with a single effect. One fuse runs around all the tubes in the cake to set them off in sequence, making set up and lighting a firework display, much simpler than with individual fireworks.
GERBS AND FOUNTAINS
Gerbs and fountains emit a shower of sparks through a clay nozzle, either shooting high in the air or creating a force sufficient to turn a catherine wheel or other moving part. A cone is a type of fountain, which starts off gently and burns more vigorously towards the end as the burning surface area increases, as a firework, a gerb or fountain is a useful tool for a tableaux or a set piece as well.
Looking like a cigarette, a lance burns for about a minute with a strong coloured flame at one end. By fixing lances to letters, numbers or pictures, and viewing from end on, they look like bright coloured dots and are used for making banners, badges, logos etc “lancework”
A waterfall is made from several card or paper tubes hung vertically from a rope or wire. Burning for over a minute, bright white flakes fall gently and quietly from the tubes, looking like falling snow or a waterfall.
FLAMEBALLS AND FLAMEBURSTS
A flameball/flameburst can either be aerial or on the ground, a lift charge is used with a slow burning fuse to ignite a black powder mixture which in turns ignites the petrol/diesel mixture (similar to a shell) or in the case of a ground effect just black powder via an electric match, the trick is to use the right combination and amount of the powder mix. These are handmade in house so to speak and cannot usually be purchased for a general firework display.
CHINESE CELEBRATION CRACKERS
My own personal favorite! The chinese cracker, and they come in all sort of sizes and reports from a 6″ cake and upwards the biggest I have seen was about 6ft in diameter. They are used usually towards the end of a display or in my case on the mean streets of wherever I am bonfiring, I Lurve em!
One of the most important lessons to learn about fireworks and setting up a firework display, is that fuses come in two basic types, fast and slow fuse. It is very important to tell the difference, as lighting a fast fuse by hand could put the firer in a very dangerous position.
Under normal circumstances most fireworks are quite safe to a firer standing very close when they are lit, but the instructions always say ‘retire to a safe distance’ because there is always a possibility of failure where the fireworks may be blown apart on the ground. I’ve seen a whole rack of shells swell and blow up in the past, interesting to say the least!
The most common type of fast fuse is ‘quick match’ which is made from string dipped in black powder (gunpowder) and wrapped inside a loosely fitting paper tube. Fire will travel through quick match at about 50 feet/sec. The best slow fuse to use is ‘plastic igniter card’ or PIC, made by ICI, and burns at a precise rate of 1 inch/sec. This means that a firework with a PIC fuse 6 inches long will give you at least 6 seconds to get away before it goes off.
The different types of fuses are used to join several fireworks together, for instance a fan of roman candles would be joined together with quickmatch, with a single tail of PIC as a slow fuse for lighting. Most firework displays today are fired remotely by electrics.
FIREWORK DISPLAY TYPE, DESIGN AND PREPARATION
Preparations for the bonfire celebrations in any village or town always begin early in the year and the firework display is no exception to this rule. Not only has the firework display to be designed and the fireworks purchased and assembled but also such matters as suitability of the firing site, insurance and storage licences need to be taken care of.
One thing a Bonfire Society will try never to do is repeat the same firework display as the previous year. Members often come up with new ideas, some will be effects they have seen in another display, others may be novel, impossible or much too expensive.
The budget available is a deciding factor on how big the firework display can be, along with the number of volunteers available to help and the layout of the firing site. Certain types of fireworks can only be used a long distance from spectators, and some cannot be used if there is too much wind.
Most of the fireworks used today are made in China and imported by only a few major suppliers in this country. Normally these suppliers will arrange a ‘trade day’ once a year where they will demonstrate many of their fireworks and particularly new effects. A really successful new firework will often be sold out within a few days of such a trade day so you need to make decisions quickly.
The Chinese are usually very willing to please their customers but communication does not always work well, so an importer never really knows what is coming or when it will arrive until the container turns up and all the cases examined. Just because there is a label on the outside of a box is no guarantee of what will be inside.
The names (and spelling) of Chinese fireworks are often interesting, many having associations with flowers, Bees Picking Pollen, Blooming Silvery Chrysanthemums, Variegated Peony, Poisonous Spider, Crackling Palm Tree etc, hence preparation for a firework display can be fun.
There are still some fireworks made in this country, these are usually types that Chinese factories do not make very well such as gerbs, lances and larger fountains. Many of the fireworks are researched and designed by English factories then manufactured in China and labeled with the English brand name. This ensures that British Safety regulations can be adhered to whilst taking advantage of the low Chinese labour costs.
The largest exporter of fireworks in Europe is Spain and although expensive, Spanish candles and shells usually have excellent colours and effects, and can be obtained with precision timings for a synchronised firework display.
TYPE OF FIREWORKS
Most of the fireworks we see today have been available for over a hundred years, some for much longer, Shakespeare referred to some in the 16th Century. What is different today is that many of the colours and effects which used to be very expensive and therefore only seen in the occasional royal firework display, are now much easier to obtain. Different countries and regions specialise in particular types of firework effects.
SETTING UP FIREWORKS AND FIRING A FIREWORK DISPLAY
Once the firework display has been designed, the fireworks chosen, purchased, and stored in a licensed explosives store registered with the local trading standards office, a substantial amount of the other hardware needs to be prepared.
Some of the equipment will be available from a previous firework display, but new ideas and lancework etc needs to be made. The mortar tubes for shells and mines need to be racked into wooden racks, and those used before need to be checked for obstructions in the tubes and security of the wooden frame. Wheels need to have the drivers attached, and waterfalls need to be prepared with their supporting structure.
ON THE DAY
The day of the bonfire celebration is always a long one. Sorting out all the boxes of goodies! One of the heaviest jobs is loading all the mortar racks onto a van or trailer, laying them out in the field and staking them firmly. Racks are always placed perpendicular to the spectators, so that if ever one was to fall over it would fall sideways and not towards them.
Wheels, candles, lancework and waterfalls all need to be similarly staked, and the general principle is that all fireworks are placed behind the stacks so that if the fixing breaks they will fall away from the spectators.
Smaller fireworks are laid out nearer the front, with shells at the back of the site, the largest shells being furthest from the spectators. Distances from the spectators and neighbours will be finally decided depending on weather conditions, if the wind is strong then certain types of fireworks involving parachutes or rockets may need to be removed from the firework display.
Loading shells into their tubes can take a long time, and this is one job which you do not want to do in the wet. There may be several hundred of them, and all need to be fused together with quickmatch and PIC to ensure they fire in reasonably quick succession. The whole fusing operation will take many man hours and consume many reels of masking tape, gaffer tape, parcel tape, cable ties, rope, tin foil, cling film and plastic bags.
Cling film and plastic bags are used to protect the fireworks from the dew and rain, while tin foil is used to cover fusing and vulnerable parts of some fireworks, which could be accidently set off by sparks from another firework falling on them.
Fireworks which will be set off electrically need to have an electric ‘match’ or ‘igniter’ taped to the fuse, and cables then wired back to a central firing panel. Igniters can be wired in series, parallel or a combination of both, and all circuits will be checked for continuity prior to firing. Fireworks which will be lit by hand need to have 6 inches of slow fuse, preferably PIC, so they can be reliably lit and give the firer enough time to retire.
When all the fireworks have been securely staked, fused and waterproofed, it will hopefully not be too dark, and there will be plenty of time to relax, walk around the firework display site and walk through the firing order. Some people will be joining the procession, others watching but there will always be one or two left on the field to look after the firework display site.
THE TIME HAS COME
The atmosphere on the field builds during the evening, as the procession approaches through the village or town, then finally enters the field and lights the bonfire with their torches. Now, as the entrance is narrow, it takes a long time for everyone to get into the field, during which time the firers will put on all the safety gear and check the firing system once more.
Most firers wear heavy boots, tough old clothes made of natural fibres, gloves, goggles and a hard hat. For lighting the fireworks manually, a portfire is normally used. About the size of a large pencil, this burns with a strong flame, rather like a lance, which will reliably light PIC or other fuse.
Portfires burn for about 4 or 5 minutes, so several will be needed for one display, remembering to light the next before the previous one goes out. Another device now used for lighting is a propane brazing torch, which starts by piezo electric ignition at the press of a button.
When everyone is in the field, all hard hats are on and portfires are lit, the firework display can begin. When the first fireworks go off, suddenly you find that the torches you need for looking at fuses and the running order are not needed, as most fireworks will light up the field quite well.
The real skill now comes in being able to judge how long each firework will last, and lighting the next fuse in time so there are no unforeseen gaps. Some small gaps are usually fine, as if it is a good firework display it gives the crowd a chance to cheer.
Towards the end, more and more shells build to a massive crescendo, with the finale being the largest shells of all, traditionally ending with one or more very loud salutes. All bonfire societies have their particular specialties and secrets, and at Fletching they have had probably one of the largest salutes fired in Britain. It was reported that it was heard nearly 10 miles away!
No sooner has the first firework been lit, and it seems to be all over in moments, the running around the field from one firework to the next, checking running orders and looking at fuses will keep everyone busy and it is very easy to forget to look up and enjoy the firework display. There will always be some item which we never seem to see at all! Hopefully someone will have captured them on video or camera, for us to relive the moment later.
THE BIG CLEAR-UP
There always seems to be so much work for a firework display which lasts 20 minutes or so, and its not over yet! All the tubes must be checked to see that they are empty, this is done by using a mirror and any ‘hang-fires’ must be left for at least half an hour before they are touched. If there is any doubt about the safety of a firework which has not gone off, then water is poured in the tube which is then left alone.
All the empty firework boxes and packing can be put on the bonfire, and all of the hardware needs to be cleared away. Fortunately, we can return on the next day in daylight to clear the rubbish off the field, but all the mortar racks with cardboard tubes needs to be put away on the night to prevent damage from the damp and rain.
It is surprising how muddy the field can become, and it is always useful to have a tractor handy for when vehicles get stuck. The more volunteers for lifting racks the better, try to catch them before they disappear to the village hall or the local pub for a pint of Harveys!
Even though we are all tired and often wet, and have spent many hours working hard together, there is hardly ever anyone who can’t wait to do it again next year, and to make the firework display even bigger with more fireworks, Bit like sex really!
FIREWORKS ARE NOT TOYS : TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT
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