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Story of a... Pyrotechnician

For 15 years, Lloyd Lightsey, 52, has had a blast lighting up the night sky.

Fireworks: Zambelli; Technician: Roberto Gonzalez

It’s Fourth of July at Lake Eola Park, and thousands of people are crowded along the lakeshore for the half-hour fireworks show. They are waiting in anticipation for Lightsey, who is stationed in a 4-foot cubic “shoot shack” in the middle of the lake with two other men, to ignite the first fuse.

“Before the show starts, my anxiety is up. There are so many people watching. I have to make this happen; I’m going to light this thing up.”

Lightsey travels throughout the state setting up more than 10 fireworks shows a year for Zambelli Fireworks. He has organized displays for professional sports games, major festivals and private parties, but he says the fireworks show over Lake Eola is the best.

“Looking out over the water, you can see the 6-foot flames coming off the shoot. You can hear the blast from the tubes, the explosion opening up, and in between, the other shots going.”

“It takes 12 hours to load the Lake Eola show. We start at 4 a.m.” A crew of six, including his wife Karrie and nephew Chris, load the shells. Everyone is licensed to handle explosives. The police, fire marshal, and fire department are on hand in case anything unexpected happens.

“There’s always the possibility of an explosion or something like one of the fireworks going out of the tube. It’s gunpowder; it’s controlled, but you still have to respect it. Safety is most important. After that, let’s light this fuse and see what happens!”

For the show, Lightsey mans a console from which cables sprout, leading to each of the fireworks. For the Lake Eola show, there are as many as 300 shots.

“I go into a zone. I can’t compare it to anything. A half hour before the show starts, everybody knows not to talk to me.”

“The 6- and 8-inch shells go the highest and blow the loudest—a 15-foot flame.” He wears headphones to protect his ears, “but when the shell goes up, it still hits you in the chest. It’s a percussion. The sound travels across the water; the echo is phenomenal. You’ve got the flash from the tube, then the echo off the buildings, and you’ve already got another shell coming back, so it’s like…YEAH!”

“After the finale, you can hear the roar of the crowd, but you can also hear me screaming at the top of my lungs. I guess it’s just my way of getting rid of tension.”

Lightsey made the decision to become a licensed pyrotechnician when the son of one of Zambelli’s head trainers asked him to help set up a show at a Miami Marlins game. He apprenticed and became licensed with Zambelli, “because they’re the best.”

Lightsey also designs and constructs ponds and waterfalls for his company, The Pond Monster. “During the day I’m a Koi fish pond builder—at night I light up the sky.”

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