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     Dr.(Phys.)Dipl.-Ing.Ralf-Udo Hartmann

Hand Firing

Before electrical firing became the preferred method, it was "in your face" fireworks. My first chance to send the big shells upward will NEVER be forgotten, something I expect every pyrotechnician will agree with.
The audience hears a WHUMP but you feel a whump and hear a BOOM. Your heart races as adrenalin add to the excitement. You have just done something so very few people ever get the chance to do. You want to fire the next shell now and it is an even larger diameter shell.
If part of a firing crew, you are much closer to the fireworks than the audience is but expected to stay at a safe distance. Then it comes. You are handed a highway fusee for the first time and expected to walk up to the firing line and make the magic happen.
Crew member hand firing. The camera is overexposing the lighted smoke in this picture giving the illusion that he is engulfed in a fireball. 
You are no longer a hundred feet away, or fifty, or even ten. The fuse only extends a few inches out of each mortar. You step up to the mortar line, crouch down and make sure your head and body are well away from the mouth of the mortar. Your free hand removes the fuse safety cap from one shell and then your other hand touches the fire to that little black fuse. You now only have time to turn your back to the mortar and take a crouched step or two away. The fuse burns slowly for a few seconds, but when it enters the paper fuse tube, the wait is over.
Hand Firing
Sixty feet per second is the fuse burn rate now, so it is just a few thousandths of a second before WHAM, the shell is on its way up. You hear and FEEL the explosion that propels the shell skyward.The "first shell jitters" are over but you are still VERY cautious. On it goes, shell by shell, as long as your first turn as firer lasts. Only when you pass the fire off to someone else, or the display ends, do you realize how pumped you are and how potentially dangerous what you have done for the first time really is. The exhilaration is incredible but you have already realized it is a truly serious job that requires one to be extremely safety conscious ABSOLUTELY EVERY TIME a fuse is lit.
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