Fireworks in the UK are generally manufactured in China and either purchased in shops or provided as an entertainment by professional firework display companies.
The British Standards Institute classifies fireworks under four categories, as determined by (BSI) BS7114:1988. Category 1 covers Indoor Fireworks available to the general public. Category 2 covers Garden Fireworks available to the general public for use outdoors in a fairly confined area where the viewing distance must be at least five metres. Category 3 covers Display Fireworks for use in a large outdoor open space with a minimum viewing distance of twenty five metres.
Category 4 fireworks are not for use by the general public. These type of fireworks are used by professional firework display companies for events and do not conform to all parts of BS7114 or have the same minimum viewing distances; the strict quality control, viewing distance and all other health and safety factors involving their use being determined by the experience, knowledge and professional accreditation of the firework display company operating them.
Professional firework display operators will always adhere to the health and safety guidelines as dictated by government statutes including The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2004.
The UK professional fireworks display industry contains many companies, both nationwide and locally. The major nationwide companies include - in no necessary order of importance - Kimbolton Fireworks, Northern Lights Fireworks, Merlin Fireworks, Alan Hillary Pyrotechnics, 1st Galaxy Fireworks, Skyline Fireworks and Imperial Fireworks.
Apart from Guy Fawkes Night, professional fireworks displays are suitable for many kinds of events including weddings, product launches, fetes, fairs, Christmas light turning on ceremonies, carnivals, beach festivals, New Year's Eve celebrations, festivals, rock concerts, sporting event opening and closing ceremonies and classical concerts.
The types of fireworks mainly to be seen at events include Lancework, Mine Fireworks, Shells, Rockets, Candles, Cakes and Wheels.
Lancework, also known as fire writing, is usually to be seen at weddings. Lanceworks are static, ground based fireworks producing tiny basic coloured flames making up, for example, a heart shape although lanceworks can also display words such as 'Goodnight' or 'Thanks'.
Mines are used at larger events, usually at the beginning or end of a show. Basically an intense wall of fire and stars, a mine throws stars into the sky from the ground. There are a large variety of effects that can be produced, a common example of which is the plume of feathers where the display effect resembles a peacock or Prince of Wales feather plume. Other types of mines include brocade mines which produce a bronze glitter effect similar - on a considerably larger scale - to the effect that can be achieved by throwing a tube of glitter into the air. Another popular type of mine, the silver cascade, produces a silver cascade ending with a bang or lots of little bangs, known as multi reports. A mine typically creates a wall of stars between fifteen to thirty metres in height.
Shells are a type of firework fired from mortar tubes and are suitable for larger events with ample space. They are an especially impressive visual experience, being able to rise to up to nearly one thousand feet in height before bursting into a descending pattern display. Shells are available in different colours and are able to change colour from, for example, red to blue to white. The variety of shell fireworks for events is huge with popular examples including chrysanthemum shells where, as the name suggests, the display resembles the flower of the same name. Indeed, the Japanese word for fireworks - hanabi - can be translated as 'fireflower'. Another type of shell firework effect is the coconut palm where the firework resembles a palm leaf as it descends. Other types of shell fireworks can produce the effect of hanging in the sky and descending as falling leaves or coming down suspended below a floating parachute. A popular type of shell produces a circle effect or multiple circles stacked on top of each other. Shells can even be made to burst in the sky creating a heart shape. Newer types of shell fireworks can produce an effect that looks like a snail spiral, a fish swimming across the sky, a jellyfish or even Mickey Mouse.
Rockets are generally used more by members of the public than firework display professionals who find shells to be more cost effective for the effect produced and without the worry of sticks falling back to the ground. Rockets are capable of rising to a height of forty five to sixty five metres.
Candles come with a variety of effects and the types used by the professionals are a larger version of the roman candle typically found in a selection box available over the counter. Typically ten millimetres in diameter and twenty centimetres long, candles are basically fireworks fixed on the ground that produce a shooting star effect. Candles operated by professional firework display companies can be over a metre long and 60mm in diameter producing effects reaching over forty metres. There are, as one might expect, a range of candles available for professional event firework display including Hummers which make a whizzing noise, Salutes which produce bangs and Butterflies which produce a spinning tourbillion (whirling) effect.
Cakes are a named after their resemblance to a Christmas cake and are a series of small candles that are fused together with one candle firing after another. Once airborne, they can rise up to forty five metres. Cakes can fire sequentially or in waves, producing an effect like a fan opening from one side to the other. They can even fire from different sides, meeting in the middle and then opening like a curtain. The effect can be particularly impressive, often resembling the effect that can be produced when moving a water hose through the air from side to side. They can even be fired sequentially to produce different patterns in the air such a peacock tail or heart. Further types of effects include strobe and glitter and, depending on the type of cake chosen, cakes that whizz, crackle and whistle.
Wheels are spinning fireworks attached to a post. The main different types of wheels are Catherine Wheels, Saxon Wheels and Slat Wheels. Catherine Wheels are fireworks comprised of a flattened paper tube of composition coiled around a plastic centre which spin around their central point causing sparks to fly in all directions. Saxon Wheels are a tube filled with composition which is pivoted at one end to produce a different type of spinning effect whilst Slat Wheels are two fireworks (drivers) positioned at right angles to each other on a single length of wood or thick cardboard to produce another variant on the firework wheel effect.
Fireworks at display events are generally electrically fired although can be still be hand fired or 'port fired' as this type of firing is known in the industry. Fireworks which are port fired are lit by the operative at arms length by a flame igniter. The more extensively used electrical firing method uses electrical ignition whereby a device similar to a match head is connected to the firework and by cable to an electrical current which, when connected, causes the firework to be activated. Electrical firing is often radio controlled although for events such as those involving music, especially classical music concerts, the fireworks can be computer fired. Computer firing involves the process being linked to a computer that has been programmed to acknowledge the structure of the music and electrically fire different fireworks at appropriate times to match the mood of the music.
The number of operatives required for an event varies enormously, depending on the size of the event. A small to medium sized event will usually require two professionals whilst larger events, particularly where the fireworks are firing from more than one site, could necessitate up to thirty operatives.
When planning to have fireworks at an event it is advisable to consider the conditions necessary to ensure everything runs smoothly. It is essential that the event location has good access and enough space for a safety zone to be established between the operatives and the crowd. It is usually recommended that the safety zone area is a minimum of fifty metres although this can be less as determined by the professional firework display company that you employ. There also needs to be a space for a safety fall-out area behind the operatives for card, dust and general debris created by the firework display. Generally speaking, the bigger the safety fall-out area, the better.
The site will need to be risk assessed in advance by the firework display company and the event organizer will need to have stewards and marshalls in attendance to patrol the safety zones. It is also advisable to take into account the car parking space that may be required and, if there is a risk of bad weather, putting into place measures to assist cars that may be bogged down as a result of muddy conditions. Professional firework display companies will notify the police of the event display as a matter of course and will also inform the local coastguard for events taking place at coastal locations. They will additionally notify the Civil Aviation Authority of the event if it is to take place near an airfield as permission must be granted by the CAA before the event can take place. For large events it is advisable for the event organiser to notify the ambulance services in advance and the professional firework company will be happy to provide advice on this matter.
It is essential when booking a professional fireworks display company for an event in the UK to ensure that they are accredited by an industry association. All reputable companies will be members of either The British Pyrotechnists Association (BPA) or The Explosives Industry Group (EIG).
Professional firework display companies will always have insurance liability cover of at least ?5,000,000 with the industry standard being around ?10,000,000. Costs of a professional fireworks display for an event vary enormously but a budgetary guideline would be to expect to pay around ?100 a minute for a small display at a wedding with larger event displays costing up to ?1,000 a minute. For a list of reputable professional firework display companies, it is advisable to visit the websites of either The British Pyrotechnists Association (BPA) or The Explosives Industry Group (EIG).