Canadian Consulting Engineer

Fireworks

John Glasswick, P.Eng., enjoys working as a project manager with Gemini Engineering in Calgary, but he really gets a bang out of his hobby -- fireworks.As with many Canadian baby boomers, Glasswick wa...

March 1, 2003  By Nordahl Flakstadt

John Glasswick, P.Eng., enjoys working as a project manager with Gemini Engineering in Calgary, but he really gets a bang out of his hobby — fireworks.

As with many Canadian baby boomers, Glasswick was introduced to fireworks through Halloween firecrackers and Roman candles. His interest waned temporarily as he grew up on Vancouver Island, and went on to get an electrical engineering degree from the University of British Columbia.

Then, in 1988, while working in Calgary, a local television station announced an Energy, Mines and Resources-sponsored fireworks supervisor course. Glasswick’s interest was rekindled, and the half-day course licensed him to shoot professional-type fireworks shows. (Licensing requirements now are more onerous.) Along with fellow alumni, Glasswick helped a Washington State firm run fireworks at the Calgary Stampede.

“I showed some interest and appeared to be reasonably sane and reliable,” Glasswick recalls. Reliable enough for the same pyrotechnics firm for several years to contract Glasswick to run shows in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

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“Rather than send their people up to do the shows on Canada Day and the Stampede, they would use me. They would send me the equipment and the fireworks and I would shoot the show.”

For the 10-day Calgary Stampede, the job meant handling some 150 boxes of fireworks and the steel mortars to shoot them. Glasswick would lead a team of half a dozen people setting up, loading mortars, connecting electrical systems, firing and cleaning up. On a typical night at the Stampede, 600 aerial shells of 3″-6″ diameter shoot hundreds of feet skyward in a barrage lasting up to five minutes. The display gets crowds of 30,000 “oohing” and “aahing,” but Calgary’s show pales relative to those at European and Asian pyrotechnic hotbeds. There, 2,000 to 3,000 rounds may be delivered within minutes.

Like a figure-skating coach, Glasswick choreographs music matching or evoking the mood, the gracefulness and even the colour of the aerial display.

He explains: “You’re not trying to make the fireworks go off precisely to the beats of the music. You try to create mood with the fireworks that complements the music.” It’s led him to use music from varied sources, including 2001, a Space Odyssey; The Lion King; and Simon and Garfunkel’s Kodachrome.

Calgary now has several pyrotechnics firms and Glasswick only takes on a couple of formal shows a year. However, as a hobby, he enjoys putting on less ambitious programs in smaller communities, using hand-fired mortars.

“That’s really exciting because the concussion of the mortars going up goes right through your body.”

It’s satisfying if spectators enjoy the show, but for Glasswick “What you get from the crowd is secondary. It’s what you see in the fireworks themselves: the emotions, the impact that it has on you. I like the noise, the colours, the brightness.”

Glasswick is one of about 40 Canadians belonging to the U.S.-based Western Pyrotechnics Association and the Pyrotechnics Guild International. These groups attract fireworks fanatics for meets that include seminars on safety, chemistry, regulations and Glasswick’s specialty: choreography. It’s also a chance to socialize, to fire rockets and demonstrate special effects, like blowing up cars.

Glasswick’s wife, Jo Anne, has held a pyrotechnics licence, and a son, David, 21, also has been involved. The Glasswicks have made “pyrotechnic pilgrimages” as far away as Valencia, Spain, to the 10-day Las Fallas festival, which is the Mecca for fireworks devotees.

For John Glasswick it’s a case of: “He who has once smelled the smoke, is never again free.”

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