WYSO Curious is our occasional series where you ask questions, and our reporters answer them online and on air. Listener Aaron Hill wanted to know more about how local communities get the fireworks for their Fourth of July celebrations. WYSO Curious producer Liam Niemeyer takes us behind the scenes of Dayton’s “Lights in Flight” fireworks show.
I wanted to get an idea of how long people think it takes to set up Dayton’s fireworks show. So last Thursday, I went to Riverscape MetroPark in downtown Dayton and asked around. The answers ranged from a few hours to a few days, but planning for Dayton’s fireworks show actually starts months before the fourth of July.
“Because we’re a city organization, we have to go through a bidding process, have to come up with specifications on what we’re looking for in the show. We put out a request for purchase, and then we put bids back on what different fireworks companies will provide for us," says Lamonte Hall Jr., Recreation and Youth Services Program Coordinator for the city of Dayton.
Multiple city departments are involved in deciding what streets to close downtown, where to put fencing around deed’s park, and more. Hall’s job is to receive the bids from fireworks companies who want to put on the Dayton Independence day show - like Rozzi Famous Fireworks.
“Anytime you do the bidding process, it’s always stressful. Because you don’t know whether you’re going to get it or not. Naturally, you want it. Definitely, because it’s in your own backyard. And you’d hate to see some company come in from out of state and get the show,” says Tom Fagan, Sales Director for the Cincinnati-based company. Rozzi did Dayton’s fireworks show for the last three years. But their contract with the city expired in 2016. Meaning they had to compete with four other fireworks companies to return to Dayton this year.
“Let’s put it this way. We do a lot of praying. [laughs] And that’s no joke," says Fagan.
City officials like Hall consider bids based on cost and show design, and this year Rozzi was chosen again. Dayton will pay more than 50-thousand for this year’s fireworks display - made up of taxpayer money and sponsorship dollars from local businesses.
That’s good news for Tom Fagan, but it only gets busier from there. Dayton’s show is one of dozens Rozzi is setting up for around the Fourth of July holiday, “We’re in Kentucky, we’re in Indiana, we’re in Ohio, we’re around home in our tri-state area. But like I said we’re out in Minnesota. And there’s quite a few amusement parks that we’re getting ready to do their fireworks for.”
Last week Rozzi loaded up their equipment and fireworks and brought them from their warehouse in Wilmington to downtown Dayton.
When I arrived at Deed’s Park on Thursday morning, the fireworks crew was in full swing getting set up.
"This is my vacation.” [laughs] “Fireworks vacation," says Dave Wallen. He has set up fireworks with Rozzi for three years. But for him and others on the crew this is only a part-time job. Wallen is taking vacation time from a job at a glass company in Beavercreek to work with Rozzi. And he kind of smells like gunpowder.
“Whenever I get home, my dog comes up to me, sniffs me, and probably thinks, ‘dang, you have to go and smell like that again. [laughs]”
Wallen and eight other workers are building what they call “guns” in an abandoned parking lot. These guns are orange and black fiberglass tubes that stand three to six feet tall. They’re using nail guns to build wooden racks around the tubes. On the night of the show, these “guns” shoot the fireworks.
George Parker III describes what it's like, “Basically when you’re down here at ground-zero during the show, it’s basically raining fire. It’s pretty chaotic. It’s controlled chaos as I like to call it.”
Safety is key throughout all of this. City of Dayton fire inspectors check inside every gun for flammable debris or damage.
The Rozzi fireworks crew spends four days building, wiring and loading hundreds of guns in the hot sun. They don’t get paid much. It takes a lot of passion to work with fireworks.
But Krissy, the only woman on the crew, says the reward often comes right after the show, “Cheers and clapping and laughing. And not that we ever get out there and see the crowd. But when you see videos of little children and their faces light up? That’s why I do it.”
The City of Dayton’s fireworks display is Monday, July 3rd at 10pm. Rozzi is also responsible for Kettering and Centerville's fireworks displays, which are both Tuesday, July 4th at 10pm.
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