How Do You Become a Licensed Pyrotechnician?

See what the exciting world of pyrotechnics has to offer you. Discover what it takes to become a licensed pyrotechnician, the education and training required, the kind of work they do, and more. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Licensed Pyrotechnician Career Information at a Glance

Licensed pyrotechnicians are people who set off fireworks and other controlled explosions, primarily for entertainment purposes. They develop fireworks displays for holidays such as Independence Day, or sporting events that wish to give their game a little something extra. Licensed pyrotechnicians have achieved some kind of certification and approval by a government body recognizing that they are qualified to safely handle and detonate explosives, although not every state requires a license to practice.

Training Required Approved fireworks/pyrotechnics safety courses
Key Skills Creativity, attentiveness, and basic math skills
Licensure Display Operator Certification (DOC), Federal Explosives License (FEL), and state certification (if needed)
Typical Pay (2018)* $30-$65/hour

Source: *Salary.com

What Do Licensed Pyrotechnicians Do?

Pyrotechnicians design and set off display fireworks, particularly those that go beyond the consumer grade fireworks that anyone can use. They also can work in film and television production, creating controlled explosions for use in entertainment programs. Pyrotechnicians may need to mix explosive chemicals and pack them into shells and casings to create particular desired effects, and should understand how intensely the chemicals will react to avoid overpacking. For fireworks displays, it is also important for pyrotechnicians to understand how far a firework will travel and where debris will land, so a significant amount of planning must take place before any device is detonated.

What Licenses And Certifications Are Required to Be a Pyrotechnician?

Pyrotechnician requirements vary massively from state to state, and the precise circumstances of the job can affect what sort of licenses are needed. Anyone buying, selling, or transporting display fireworks is required to obtain a Federal Explosives License (FEL) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and may need a special driver's license allowing him to transport hazardous materials in their state. Safety training is available from industry organizations like the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) for members. The Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI) offers a Display Operator Certification class, available to anyone, which involves a day of practical and classroom training, an exam, and experience on at least four active displays as a crew member and one as a lead. Such certifications are recommended even in states that do not require them.

What Is Working as a Licensed Pyrotechnician Like?

Pyrotechnicians work in a number of possible environments, as needed for each show. Since much of the demand for pyrotechnics work is based around holidays and celebrations, most pyrotechnicians work as contractors, being paid for each display they set off and possibly necessitating significant amounts of travel to have steady work. Aside from temporary displays being set off for holidays, pyrotechnicians can also work at amusement parks or sports arenas, which may set off fireworks weekly or even nightly. Because of the risks involved when working with explosives, most pyrotechnicians are required to carry large amounts of insurance to cover any potential injury to spectators or property damage. Those pyrotechnicians working in the film industry are typically covered by the production company and will need to work closely with the director and camera operators to match their needs.

How Are Pyrotechnicians Paid?

Pyrotechnicians typically work in a contractor capacity for cities or other organizations who want to put on shows. According to a 2018 article on Salary.com, $30 to $65 per hour is a common figure, including setup before the show and clean up after. Small events or personal ones, such as weddings, may only bring in a few hundred dollars, while major displays like those seen on New Year's Eve or Independence Day can make thousands. Pyrotechnicians working at regular venues, such as amusement parks or stadiums, may draw a regular salary, but these positions are rare enough that salary data is not easily available.

What Are Some Career Alternatives to Pyrotechnics?

Other jobs that deal heavily with explosive devices include Explosive Ordinance Disposal, more commonly referred to as bomb disposal, wherein unknown explosive devices are safely detonated. This is typically a military career; however, some police departments in larger cities do maintain such units. Explosives workers, or 'blasters,' are employed in the mining industry to help move earth or break through bedrock, and in demolition to safely destroy large structures that can no longer be used. These career fields are just as niche as pyrotechnics, however, meaning the number of positions available is quite low.

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