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Behind the scenes of a family fireworks favorite

Fireworks photo
Thomas Hawk via Wikimedia | CC BY 2.0

The weekend’s fourth of July festivities likely included fireworks for you and your family – and lots of them. WGVU spoke with John Rozzi, the lead engineer of the Amway Family Fireworks show in downtown Grand Rapids, to get the story behind the scene. 

John is a fourth-generation engineer with his brother’s company – Arthur Rozzi Pyrotechnics – in Ohio. He says fireworks has been the family business for more than 100 years.

“It started with my great grandfather. Italian immigrant back in the 1890’s or so.”

“My grandfather started a fireworks business back in the '30’s here in Cincinnati. And since then we’ve been all aspects of fireworks. Doing everything from making little backyard fireworks to shooting off big displays like this.”

John designed last weekend’s 22-minute, double-finale show downtown.

“The hours put in – I mean, in designing the show, putting it all together, organizing it – I don’t know, I would say maybe 50 hours of work? Just behind the computer. Figuring out what to do and where.”

Then it’s time to package everything up.

Which takes some time – fireworks are classified as explosives, so they’re heavily regulated by the government.

They’re also all sorted by color, weight, charge - all in remote, secured storage locations.

“Which is like – say the script calls for, ‘I need this many red, this size’. I gotta go to that location, pull all those, label them with the number, the shot they’re going to be. Put them in different bins, different boxes.”

Downtown Grand Rapids takes about 5,000 pieces, John says – many of which have multiple shots and elements to stage together.

And of course you need to add things like fuses and ignition components, so they end up in the sky.

John’s been involved with making, building, designing and producing fireworks since he was a child, so we asked him – with all that you’ve seen, what’s your favorite?

“My favorite firework actually is a sparkler. And it’s so – so strange, people say that, but I really do love sparklers. I don’t know, it’s just the simplest firework – anyone can play with it, little kids can play with it.”

John says he also loves the sparkler because it’s so accessible – a way for everyone to enjoy the celebration, together.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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