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Fourth of July fireworks canceled due to pyrotechnician shortage

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

On the Fourth of July, Americans come together to celebrate independence. And for many, that celebration includes watching pyrotechnics, also known as fireworks.

JULIE HECKMAN: But I think most of all, it represents how we celebrate our pride and patriotism.

SUMMERS: That's Julie Heckman. She's the American Pyrotechnic (ph) Association's executive director. Heckman says that many Americans have a memory of their first Fourth of July, of gathering with family and friends, just waiting for the sun to set and the fireworks to start.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

But this year, not every town or city will get to celebrate on the actual Fourth of July because of a shortage of qualified pyrotechnicians. Lake Meredith, Texas, had to cancel the show. And College Park and Ocean City, Md., had to reschedule their fireworks, as did the city of Fairfax, Va. Cathy Salgado is director of parks and recreation there.

CATHY SALGADO: We were notified a couple weeks ago from our fireworks supplier that they had to cancel our fireworks show because they did not have a qualified, licensed pyrotechnician available to shoot the show. Obviously, it sent us scrambling.

SHAPIRO: When she received the cancellation email from their supplier, she was disappointed but understood why they were short-staffed.

SALGADO: You have to understand that pyrotechnicians - it's not a full-time job; they're contractual. So they literally are working the major events of the year, and, obviously, July Fourth is the No. 1 major event of the year. And hence, everybody wants to do their fireworks show on July Fourth.

SUMMERS: The fireworks in Fairfax are now scheduled for July 5. Over in the city of Vienna, Va., their fireworks show this tonight. Leslie Herman is the parks and recreation director. She says they also changed the date of their show after they received a letter from the same supplier.

LESLIE HERMAN: I think part of it is that, coming out of COVID, some folks that they used for - as pyrotechnicians just weren't doing it any longer.

SUMMERS: Julie Heckman from the Pyrotechnic Association says that while staffing around Independence Day is usually difficult...

HECKMAN: We always say not every community can have their show on July 4. It is physically impossible for the firework industry to make that happen.

SUMMERS: ...The pandemic made things worse.

HECKMAN: The firework industry was completely crippled in 2020. They lost 90% of their revenues.

SHAPIRO: But now the industry is bouncing back, which forced Fairfax to reschedule. But their parks and recreation director, Cathy Salgado, looks at it this way.

SALGADO: I guess, on the bright side, we're celebrating July Fourth for two days.

SHAPIRO: And she promises Fairfax residents a great Independence Day show, including a spectacular grand finale - just on the 5 of July.

(SOUNDBITE OF KATY PERRY SONG, "FIREWORK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Taylor Hutchison
Kathryn Fox