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Fireworks after the Zookeepers' game.    Eric Abernathy/Randolph Hub

Meet the people behind the BOOM!

ASHEBORO — They put on spectacular shows but are completely anonymous. They do it because they love fireworks.

Brian Pruett and Rodney Chapman of Newberry, SC, are both retired teachers who have found gigs as part-time, year-round independent contractors for Pyrotecnico, one of the nation’s largest fireworks companies. While Pyrotecnico is based in New Castle, Pa., Pruett and Chapman work out of Saluda, SC. 

Pruett, age 66, is a lead operator while Chapman, 74, is content to be his assistant.

“I’ve been doing this about 15 years and this is my second time here” in Asheboro for the July 4th fireworks display presented by the Asheboro ZooKeepers. Since the local baseball team was scheduled to play at home on July 3 this year, that’s when they entertained the crowd after the game.

“We call this a cake show,” Pruett said of the fireworks display. A cake contains a series of tubes fused together in one box for a chain reaction of shots and effects. For the July 3 show, there were 29 cakes for the main show and another 16 for the grand finale.

Each cake is wired to a module which sends signals to the cakes to hit the fuses with 24 volts to create a fire. Pruett said it takes just a split second and “the cake gets going.”

The tubes are packed differently to create a variety of colors and configurations. Meanwhile, Pruett sits at a control panel that’s connected to the modules, flipping toggle switches numbered from 1 to 32. Another dial can be set to channels A to D, according to the number of modules.

Pruett said Pyrotecnico has setups that are computerized so that the manual flipping of switches is unnecessary. Regardless, Pruett and Chapman wear hard hats and welder’s jackets during the show, which lasts about 15 minutes.

The size of the charges depends on the clearance from houses, businesses and highways. The new McCrary Park parking lot behind the outfield fence is where Pruett and Chapman set up their fireworks 

“This is unique out in the parking lot,” Pruett said. “There’s more room, the perfect spot for what we’re doing. This is what we like, to come in one day and go.”

Even from the large parking lot, there were houses nearby and Interstate 73/74 close enough to limit the charges.

“We need clearance with nothing around for a shell show, with softball to basketball size balls,” Pruett said. For this show, the balls were about an inch and a half in diameter.

He said shooting fireworks “is not an exact science but the show should last about 15 minutes.”

Fireworks are especially popular for the Fourth of July but Pyrotecnico puts on shows all year. They do private corporate events, public community shows and even weddings. They’re popular attractions at sporting events such as NASCAR races and college and professional football games. Pyrotecnico has provided fireworks for the Super Bowl.

Pruett said the Vitale family owns the company and competes with the Zambellis, both headquartered at New Castle, PA, known as the Fireworks Capital of the United States. Both companies originated in Italy.

Learning the fireworks trade, Pruett said, “takes three or four years to get up to speed.” An operator requires a commercial driver’s license and must be certified with Hazmat with federal and state licenses.

Asked what the hardest part of the job was, Pruett said, “The most work is setup and cleanup.” After the show was over, Pruett and Chapman had to remove all the debris from the parking lot.

But the show, itself, is why they do what they do. 

So, who has the best seats for viewing the fireworks? “We probably do,” Pruett admitted. “But the people in the stands have a really good view.”

He said he gets pleasure from his job. “I always liked fireworks and I like to travel. My son is a regional manager (for Pyrotecnico) and doing this helps him.

“We’ve done weddings and New Year’s at Biltmore,” Pruett said, adding that they regularly perform after games of the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Asheville Tourists.
“When you hear the cheers (during and after a show), you know you’ve done a good job,” Pruett said. “When you hear great comments, it makes you feel good.”

Pruett and Chapman cleaned up after another fireworks display at McCrary Park. Then it was off the next day to entertain the July 4th crowd at the Durham Bulls game.

Not a bad way to spend your retirement years.