Fireworks expert

Fireworks expert

A career with a bang!

Planet Science caught up with Matthew Tosh, a Senior Display Supervisor. Guess where he was when we spoke to him? Standing in a muddy field putting a huge fireworks display together!

Hi Matt! What first got you into fireworks?

A long term interest from childhood. I really enjoyed technical stuff behind the scenes, like in theatre. In a firework show there's a lot of technical stuff behind the scenes, such as rigging, checking angles and safety, just like theatre.

What's your favourite part of the job?

I get a thrill out of seeing all my hard work paying off in the evening. The ultimate buzz is a crowd of 70,000 people cheering because of what I've done. I also like the link between science and the performing arts - it's a perfect match of geeky programming and the performance side.

What's the worst thing?

Definitely the weather! Kneeling in the mud in the wind and rain when you can't feel your fingers and you're trying to finish intricate fusing is hard.

Putting together a fireworks display

Putting together a firework display (c) Matthew Tosh

What are the skills you need to be a firework technician?

I'm the site manager at the current show I'm doing, which is very exciting. It's a digital show, with the fireworks set to go off in time to music. A Senior Display Supervisor needs a good rapport with his clients and members of the public. You need to think clearly and logically under pressure to deal with delays and fix the rig [the structure that fireworks are attached to] calmly and efficiently. Teamwork is also important. You've got to get on with the job, no matter what someone asks you to do - whether that's standing in a hedge or crawling in mud!

What do you do when something goes wrong?

You need to think on your feet to deal with problems such as fireworks misfiring. There's a lot more to the job than meets the eye!

Has anything particularly bad gone wrong?

The most spectacular thing I've seen is a firework malfunction, when a firework goes off on the ground. That's why we have safety distances, because the fireworks go off at a range of 50 to 100 metres! Surprisingly though, the most common injuries to firework technicians are hitting their thumb with a hammer and getting splinters from the wooden rig.

Push the button

Push the button! Setting off fireworks (c) Matthew Tosh

Do you have a science background?

Yes, I studied physics at university.

Does that help you in your job?

Yes, definitely! I actually fell into fireworks via teaching. I invited a firework company to a school I was teaching at. I was interested in the process and the firework company offered to train me.

How can other people get into the fireworks industry?

If you're interested in setting up firework displays, contact a professional display company. Many will take you out on a few shows to see if you like it. Then, you can get qualifications from the British Pyrotechnists' Association. I'm authorised to drive a 7.5 ton truck full of explosives!

Thanks Matthew!

Right, Planet Science is going to work on our explosive qualifications...

If you want more information about Matthew's work as a firework technician, you can follow him on Twitter @matthewtosh.