A Flair for the Dramatic

When your event calls for pyrotechnics, certain safety precautions and permit information are important to know, to ensure that all that goes off is a top-notch visual display.

Venue matters. Where you hold your event determines the type of permits you'll need. According to Steve Freedman of Sparktacular Inc. in Dania, the least amount of paperwork is typically involved when you work with a hotel. In these cases, you don't need to involve the city, as the hotel's event managers will use their discretion as to what they'll allow on their property. However, if you're holding your event in on public property, such as a beach or a park, Freedman emphasizes the importance of contacting the city to avoid legal issues arising during or after your event.

And if you want to take your fireworks out over the water, there are additional legalities to maneuver around, thanks to increased maritime regulations following September 11, 2001. To shoot fireworks off a barge, a company has to submit a permit for approval to the Coast Guard a minimum of 90 days before the event, according to Ernie Ruiz, owner of Party Sparks Inc. in Miami. If a new water location is to be used, such as a private boat or yacht, a minimum of 120 days is necessary for permit approval.

Securing the paperwork. To get a permit for a pyrotechnics display, the fireworks company needs to submit at least five things to the local fire department:

o An application for the permit
o A list of the materials being used
o The fireworks company's insurance documents
o A survey of the launch site
o Proof of licenseFire officials will then evaluate all the fireworks company's credentials and evaluations and turn their findings over to the venue or city officials, depending on the pyro display's location.

It's important to note, however, that the regulations and permits required vary by city. Anything new garners increased scrutiny, requiring companies to jump over more hurdles and spend additional time getting approval. The city of Orlando and Orange County both take a minimum of 14 days to evaluate a permit, Fort Lauderdale requests 15, and Coral Gables requires at least 30 days to approve an application. Therefore, contacting the fireworks company at least a few weeks before your event is necessary to ensure they can get any necessary paperwork together in enough time to submit it and obtain approval.

In addition, each city charges a different rate for its permits, and even though the cost is typically included in a fireworks company's rates, ask up front if it's included in your contract.

Choosing a company. Because certain safety and legal concerns, such as threat of injury or property damage, are involved when using pyrotechnics, Freedman recommends working with a company that's experienced in the area where your event is being held.

"By hiring someone who knows what they are doing, and how to handle the paperwork, you will save time and have less to deal with in the end," says Freedman.

In addition to minimizing the time you must spend ensuring you have the proper permits, the entire process can be expedited if local authorities are familiar with your vendor.

"Since we have been in business for so long, the municipalities know who we are, and we get things taken care of a lot quicker," says Ruiz.

When talking with companies, ask them whom they have shooting the show, advises Steve Zigmont of Zigmont Magic F/X in Tampa, as sometimes the company you hire will contract another supplier and not be at the event producing the services you paid them to provide.

The qualifications of people you are working with need to be evaluated. A possessor permit from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives may sound official, but in actuality simply means the company can possess fireworks, not necessarily fire them.

"Proper companies should have at least a shooters license from the state, a certificate stating they've completed a test to operate fireworks, an A.T.F. possessor permit, and proof of insurance," says Zigmont.

Additional points to consider. Beyond legal concerns, planners should also be aware of the ecological factors of including pyrotechnics in their events. For instance, areas experiencing drought conditions may prevent you from doing anything pyrotechnical outside, as the hazard to the environment is increased.

Smoke detectors and indoor sprinklers also need to be addressed prior to shooting off any indoor effects. Andy Nichols of Orlando Special Effects recommends asking the venue's staff several times before the day of the event that these items are turned off, to make sure guests won't have to be evacuated.

Additionally, Nichols emphasizes the importance of ventilation following a big opening display. By working with the pyrotechnic company and the venue, you can determine the best display for your event that won't leave guests smelling fumes or smoke for the duration of the party.

"In the end, as long as the people you hire are qualified and everything is in compliance, then you are going to have a safe show," says Zigmont.
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