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By J Larry Mattingly

VP Marketing

Entertainment Fireworks, Inc.


Disclaimer: There is seemingly an infinite number of variables that may be encountered during the process of organizing and staging either a public or private fireworks display. Any number of these variables can affect the start and finish time of the display, pyrotechnic materials used, permits, location of display, and ultimate cost. Lists of items herein may not be complete for all locations or events. The ultimate success of the display will depend on the abilities of the display company and the willingness of sponsors to understand and cope with the various impediments. For those that are willing, there is almost always a way to get it done.


Someone says “let’s have a fireworks display”. 


But, where to start?


Here is an outline of the approximate steps in the successful staging of a display:

            Decide approximate budget.

            Pick a probable site.

            Call 2-3 display companies about the event.

            Meet display reps at site, one at a time.

Display companies review site and set parameters for what can be done.

Decide on style of display and whether choreographed to music.

Invite proposals and review them.

Select a company for your event.

Sign contract and arrange for payments.

Secure written permission from land owner.


More items listed below.


Sponsor needs to establish some idea of how much can be spent on a display. This can be difficult but there needs to be a starting point. Display companies can help establish an actual budget as discussion with them proceeds. But the sponsor should have some idea of his limits.


Normally the display company will take care of all normal and usual permits for the display itself. Requirements for crowd control, street blocking, portable toilets and so forth will be the responsibility of the sponsor. Sponsor should check with all local authorities regarding any other requirements or permits for staging a display at a given location.


Additional sponsor items in planning a display:


            Fire Service standby.

            First Aid stations.

            Crowd monitors for the safety zone.

            Sound system.

            How to play music to accompany the display.

Traffic directors.

Permits for vendors.

Portable toilets

Street blocking for traffic control and safety.

            And of course, advertising.

Here is some information that will help you get started.


Barges with Tug and loading location: Depending on size, location for duration of charter, running hours of tug time, and the date, average costs may run $3K to $15K or more for a single display. These days, barges and tugs are very rarely donated. These figures do not include any charges from the display company, or required permits and inspections. Barges are usually located and recommended by display companies, but sponsors can arrange for them separately. Barge charges can be included in the budget but are often paid directly by the sponsor. All barge fired displays require at least one patrol vessel with water rescue capability.


There is a finite number of Lead/Licensed Pyrotechnicians and equipment (especially barges) for the 4th. Sponsors willing to go on the 2nd, or 3rd, or the Saturday before the 4th, may be able to get a better deal from some display companies. (Usually, more shells and other effects for the budgeted amount.)


Advanced planning time is vital. Very small events may get done in 30 days or less.

Larger events should have 60 to 90 days advance planning.

Very large, or widely advertised events can take up to 6 months or more of advance notice. DO NOT WAIT…Check with local authorities for advance notice times and all required permits and clearances. All too often the minimal notice time is barely enough to meet all requirements.


A “Marine Event Permit” issued by the US Coast Guard, is required for all displays fired on, or over, or affecting navigation on all navigable waterways. Minimum notice time is 135 days. 


Selecting a site:

Even if it is a known display site used in the past, a site survey and meeting with sponsor should be preformed by any display company submitting a proposal for your display. An on-site discussion should take place between the sponsor and each display company to decide on the best way to present a display for a given event.

At this point the display company can make a map used in applying for any required permits, and for site planning for the set-up of the display.

There needs to be room not only for the display, but also for the expected number of spectators. Spectator access to and from the site must be considered. The size and configuration will determine what pyrotechnic items, and what size, can be used. Permission from the land-owner must be secured.


Selecting a display company:

Look them up in the yellow pages and on the internet. Ask the State Fire Marshal which companies are registered to do displays in your state. Also ask them about safety records of the companies named. Check with other sponsors who have displays. Watch a display done by companies you may use. Sit down and have a frank discussion with a representative of each of the companies regarding their experience in your kind of event, what is required, and how they are going to accomplish the display. Ask each one how they would best enhance your event with Fireworks. Ask about their ideas for getting the most out of the display.


Display companies may vary widely in how many minutes in duration a given budget will produce. It is not always how many items in a display, nor how long they take to fire it, nor what one or more special items may be. Ultimately, it is how it is presented in the sky. This is often the most difficult part of the decision. The prudent sponsor of a display will look beyond the numbers in the proposal in selecting a display company. Yes, the amount of product is important, but should not be the most important part of the decision. Most display companies consider it unethical to reveal what Sponsors actually pay for a given event. City funded displays usually have actual value published as public information.


Minimum completion standards:

Fireworks are not now, and never have been a perfect science, but are much improved over the last 10-20 years. Even so, in any display, some items may malfunction or not fire at all. This should not imply cheap, or poor quality goods, or, poor practices on the part of the display crew. It just happens.

Many display companies say if 95% of the material furnished functions normally, the display is considered to be complete. Some use 96% and a few use 97%.  None of these numbers should be considered an unfair standard of the industry.  


Below are shown some average prices for some events.  Amounts are in US Dollars. The list is supplied only as a guide as actual pricing may vary widely for a given event. All averages below are based on land launched displays. No barge charges or land rents are included. It is possible that one or two effects may be fired in a small special event at lesser prices then shown. That is strictly up to the sponsor and supplier and any actual reduction in price is not any way herein implied.




Budget averages:


4th of July $5,000 to $100,000 or more.

            Municipally sponsored displays in the NW $10 K to$50 K, averaging $25 K.

            Privately sponsored in the NW $5 K to $50 K or more, averaging $10-20 K.

            There are 4 in the NW that likely are more then $100 K.


Off Season venues, (outside of the 2 weeks surrounding the 4th):

            Weddings: $2.5 K to $6 K or more. Average is $3 K to $4 K.

            Civic celebrations: $5 K to $25 K or more. Average is $5 K to $12 K.

Birthdays and anniversaries: $2.5 K to $6 K or more. Average is $3 to 4 K.

Grand openings: $5 K to $50 K or more. Average is $15 K to $25 K.

New product introductions: $3 K to $20 K or more. Average is $4 K to $6 K.

Large project completions: $5 K to $40 K or more. Average is $10 to $15 K.

Summer festivals: $8 K to $25 K or more. Average is $10 K to $15 K.

Winter carnivals: $8 to $20 K or more. Average is $10 K to $15 K.

Private corporate events: $8 K to $20 K or more. Average is $8 K to $12 K.

Sporting events: $5 K to $20 K or more. Average is $7 K to $10 K.

Holiday lighting events: $4 K to $40 K or more. Average is $8 K to $20 K.


Some of the averages above are well less then the maximum shown. That is because there are events annually at the maximum amounts. There are also many more types of displays at other budget levels. It is possible for the same or similar display fired in two different locations to be substantially different in cost. Distance traveled, hotel rooms, crew meals, permit costs, physical set-up requirements, and other aspects of difference can affect the ultimate price.


Most display companies have their own contract that they prefer to use. Some may not sign contracts written by others. Some municipalities insist on their contract.

If a contract is to be written for a given event it should at least include:

            The parties names and when display is and what it is for.

            Define the total dollars and the deposit and dates due.

            Refer to the proposal for what materials will be supplied.

            Show the responsibilities of each party.

Check with both party’s representatives to be sure to include all concerns.

            List resolutions for settlements of disagreements.

List the official addresses of both parties.

Parameters for setting a rain date.

Provisions for postponement or cancellation.

Set an agreed “minimal completion” percentage.

Other conditions which the parties may require for a given situation.


Generally the responsibilities of the parties are:

            Display company:

All permits pertaining directly to the display.

All display materials and equipment necessary to fire the display and transportation there of, to the site.

Liability insurance as may be required

Lead/Licensed Pyrotechnician and crew.

The set-up, firing of the display, recovery and disposal of all unfired materials, and in the absence of other arrangements, reasonable clean-up of the site.


The Sponsor:

 Agreeable to equitable deposit and final payment schedule.

A site large enough and usable for the planned display.

Provide easy access to the safety zone for pyro crew and equipment truck.

Must provide good crowd control and secure safety zone around the fireworks as per applicable regulations.

Spectator vehicle parking must be provided away from the safety zone.

A fire/emergency lane must be maintained.

Provide standby fire service if required.


Display fireworks are a unique form of entertainment that will always attract a crowd. There is an ever-changing effort to meet the challenge of entertaining people with fire. Modern electric firing equipment, new effects and colors, higher reliability in pyro materials, talented lead/licensed pyrotechnicians and better trained crews, coupled with great imagination in choreography have made display fireworks one of the best forms of entertainment.






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