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Minutes of pyro, months of prep

By Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Jul 4, 2014 at 7:00 PM

When Lee Ann Crosslin began doing Lebanon’s July 4 fireworks show 20 years ago, she had to hand-light every shell in the show.

That was before the show moved from the old Lebanon High School to the Wilson County Fairgrounds. 

A lot has changed since then.

Now, the fireworks are no longer hand-lit, but instead wired to a type of battery, and a technician may be 3 or 4 feet from the shell while lighting it electronically

Crosslin now organizes the show for the city, and the city again this year hired the pyrotechnic display company, Pyro Shows, Inc., which also has produced displays in Nashville and Knoxville.

But the 30- to 45-minute show still entails months of preparation for Crosslin.

“We start ordering the fireworks in February. We have to have state permits, and you have to send them in a site plan,” said Crosslin. “It really starts in February.”

The city this year approved $23,000 for fireworks.

“We bid out $23,000 and they send us how many shell for $23,000…We order a kind of package,” said Crosslin.

In the days leading up the show, Crosslin spends at least two full days preparing for the site.

She said one of the key tasks is getting the field ready.

“[I have to] make sure that it is mowed down to where it can’t catch fire,” said Crosslin. “If it’s been real dry, I have to get the fire department out to water it down.”

The other key task is roping off the area surrounding the area where the fireworks will be shot from.

“We have to be so far back so if something was to go wrong, it’s not going to touch anybody,” she said. “One year, we had one ignite on the ground and put a 6-foot crater in the ground, but no one was injured because we were so far back.”

She said the hardest part of the job is making sure people stay clear of the roped-off area.

“The biggest challenge with the fireworks is making sure that the people are safe,” said Crosslin. “I don’t think [a lot of people] understand these aren’t the regular firecrackers.”

She said the technicians all have to be licensed through the state, where they learn applicable safety precautions and techniques. The pyrotechnic company must also carry adequate liability insurance; state law requires a minimum of $1 million for bodily injury and property damage.

In addition, the city has to make sure the fire department is onsite before the show begins.

But it’s worth it.

Crosslin said the show has become a draw for people even beyond Wilson County.

“We have people who take vacations to come down here to see our show,” she said.

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