The highlight of Bruce Lawson's year is the Fourth of July, personally and professionally. He loved fireworks when he was a kid growing up in Boise, and now he's the man who runs the biggest show in town on Independence Day.
Actually, his Oregon-based company, Homeland Fireworks, runs dozens of shows every July 4, and all year long at venues throughout the West. We caught up with Lawson as he was putting the finishing touches on this year's spectacular, which will light up the skies over Ann Morrison Park in his hometown.
Is this a family legacy or is the fireworks business new for you?
Relatively new. My wife and I moved to Jamieson, Ore., to run a family farm, and we used to do some blasting here for mainline irrigation systems. Then about 12 years ago, for the Fourth of July, I decided to have some display fireworks, which are federally regulated. So that really began the business for us. We got our wholesale license in 2004.
Does that mean you can sell fireworks, too?
You bet. I import from China and Italy. We only sell 1.3 Gs to individuals who have federal licenses.
What does 1.3 G mean?
It's a special classification for large display fireworks used in big shows. For instance, 1.3 Gs are the type of shells that we'll use in Boise.
In looking at your contract for Boise I see that you're using more than 1,200 shells on the Fourth. Is that typical?
For Boise, yes. I'm just putting the finishing touches on Boise's show. It will run 20 to 23 minutes.
Are you always looking to make your displays bigger and louder?
It's a roller coaster ride. We'll amp you up, then slow you down, and amp you up again. Simply making it bigger or louder isn't what satisfies everybody. It isn't what you or I like. It's what everybody in the park wants to be a part of.
How much of this is automated?
The Boise show will be a computer show. It's what we call a pyro-musical.
Do you determine the music?
I wish. We work with the customer and they tell us the music they like.
How much insurance do you have to carry for a typical show.
$1 million. In some venues, we're required to carry $6 million.
Are there companies in the Northwest that do exactly what you do?
Yes. It was pretty tough until about five years ago. But now our show designs have taken us to a different level.
Where do you shoot your shows?
On the Fourth of July we'll shoot anywhere from 45 to 50 shows all over the Pacific Northwest, plus Montana, Wyoming and Arizona.
I'm guessing that your technicians have a unique skill.
In most states, you need at least three to six shoots as an apprentice before you can get what we call a "lead pyro card." Then you have to work a minimum of 10 more shows to work with the top pyros. Idaho currently doesn't have any pyro training. They need one, and we'd be happy to help.
Other than the Fourth of July, what are your other big events during the year?
County fairs. Plus we shoot at a lot of big air shows and weddings.
How much might a wedding display cost?
Our minimum is $2,500. That will buy you anywhere from eight to 10 minutes, but most weddings average 10 to 15 minutes for a private display.
What is your price range?
From $2,500 on the low end, all the way up to $180,000. [*Note: Homeland's winning bid for this year's show in Boise was $23,500.]
How dangerous is your business?
Very, very dangerous. Last year, three Mountain Home firemen got hurt when they were setting up a display. Also last year, Melrose Pyrotechnics in South Carolina lost four of their top-notch pyros in a warehouse explosion.
Is that what happens when people try to cut the edges?
Yup. Cut corners, save some money. We just don't do that. We have extensive training for our employees, four to five times a year.
Do you still have all your fingers and toes?
Oh, yeah. And my hearing is still really good, too.