The business of fireworks

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Employees from International Fireworks Manufacturing Co. will be at 20-plus sites today as towns, baseball teams and beaches present their annual Fourth of July fireworks shows.

"We're a regional company and we'll have shows from Connecticut to Virginia," said David Reynolds, who is senior sales manager for the Union Township-based business.However, the holiday is just a drop in the bucket for International. Reynolds said International puts on 300 shows a year during all seasons."We once cleared out 3 feet of snow to put on a show for Stokesay Castle," he said. "We're like the Post Office: We'll work in any weather."Locally, International puts on shows for the Reading Fightin Phils, Greater Mifflin Community Days, Boyertown, Amity Township and the Norco Fire Co. in North Coventry Township.It shouldn't be a surprise, but putting on a show isn't cheap. Besides the fireworks themselves, there's also months of planning, permits to obtain and insurance.Reynolds said a typical Fourth of July show runs between $10,000 and $15,000. Shows at baseball stadiums, which are more frequent, are between $3,000 and $4,000.Contact Evan Jones: 610-371-5066 or largest companies in the U.S.Fireworks by Grucci: The Bellport, N.Y.-based company, founded in 1850, has expanded to global prominence with branch offices in China and the Middle East. The company has the distinction of holding the largest fireworks show according to the "Guiness Book of World Records," setting off 479,651 fireworks during a single show in Dubai. Grucci has also performed at seven consecutive presidential inaugurations and multiple Olympic Games.Pyrotex: Founded in 1979, this Texas-based company came onto the scene providing pyrotechnics to rock concerts. Some of its early clients included the Bee Gees, David Bowie, Styx, The Commodores and ZZ Top. Show business still plays a big part for Pyrotex as its work has appeared in movies, TV and stage productions. For mass audiences, Pyrotex produces more than 30 July 4th shows across Texas.Zambelli Fireworks: The "First Family of Fireworks," based in New Castle, Lawrence County, which has proclaimed itself the "Fireworks Capital of America," as the city is also home to Pyrotecnico. Antonio Zambelli founded the company in 1893 after immigrating from Italy with a black book containing the family's fireworks recipes. Some of the company's biggest shows have been for major events, including Pittsburgh's 250th celebration.Planning a show?You must go through these steps, courtesy of Zambelli Fireworks:Permits: Every municipality has different fireworks permit requirements. The larger fireworks companies have relationships with fire and safety officials to expedite the permitting process.Site visits and meetings: Fireworks companies visit the site to determine the safety distances required, the types of fireworks and pyrotechnics that can be used and to help design the overall look of the display. It also lets the company get a true sense of the customer's needs for the event.Insurance: The company can take care of it. Zambelli Fireworks carries a per project general liability policy of $10 million. All parties that need to be insured for the certificate will be discussed in a pre-event meeting.Timing: Planning should begin at least three months in advance of the event. For bigger shows, more time may be needed.Show duration: When it comes to fireworks displays, "less is more." Spectators prefer a shorter, high-itensity display over a longer display that shows one effect every few seconds. The largest display in the U.S. is 24 minutes.Music production: The company can put together a soundtrack to go with the fireworks.Types of outdoor fireworksAerial display shells: Come in different colors and patterns such as hearts, wagon wheels, rings, smiley faces and butterflies. Effects include willows, strobes, glittering, rainbows, parachutes and twirling serpents.Multishot devices: Also known as cakes, these devices paint the sky with endless colors, noise and special effects. Some devices can produce more than 400 shots in 17 seconds from heights between 100 and 300 feet.Set pieces: Can produce items such as a flag or company logo using fireworks known as lances, pencil-sized flares that are mounted on wooden frames. The displays can be set or animated.Close Proximity Outdoor Pyrotechnics: Used in closed in areas such as urban centers and sports stadiums. It has a limited amount of explosive power with low smoke and little debris.Fightin fireworksThe Reading Fightin Phils provide the most fireworks shows each year in Berks County:The team provides up to 29 shows per season at FirstEnergy Stadium.The shows are made possible by various sponsors, who help fund the fireworks.The Fightins front office spends a decent part of the offseason finding the sponsors to put on the large number of shows.It's a popular promotion for the team's front office because it appeals to all age groups.PR director Eric Scarcella said it keeps fans from leaving a blowout game.Top U.S. fireworksFive cities in the Northeast that made the top 10 U.S. fireworks displays list, according to USA Today:Washington: The nationally televised display on the National Mall in front of the Washington Monument is visible from many locations. Spectators arrive hours in advance for prime viewing locations.New York: The Brooklyn Bridge serves as a backdrop as the display returns to the East River side of Manhattan.Boston: Run in conjunction with a free Boston Pops concert, over a half-million are in the audience along the Charles River.Philadelphia: The "Welcome America" celebration on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway brings in top acts which culminates with fireworks behind the Museum of Art. The Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J., also has its own show, which can be viewed on both sides of the Delaware River.Atlantic City, N.J.: The annual fireworks festival, "We the People, By the People, For the People Fourth of July Fireworks" attracts more than 250,000 people who enjoy the views from along the boardwalk, as well as Steel Pier and many of the area's beachfront venues.