A windswept rooftop high up on a building in a city centre isn’t the most inviting place for a fireworks company to stage a rooftop fireworks display. What about those translucent plastic wall panels a few feet away? What about the block of flats with roof terraces just across the road? What about the audience attending the opening ceremony in the piazza down below?
All these potential trouble spots had to be taken into careful consideration in planning a display to celebrate the launch of Southampton’s new Nuffield Theatre.
Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre opening night fireworks
The production manager, Andrew Quick, couldn’t have been more helpful in showing us round the gleaming glass and concrete structure. There was a lift to the top floor to aid transport of the fireworks, a nice big door opening out on to the roof, and a handy ladder to take us the few steps to the firing site.
At about 12ft x 12ft it was among the smallest launch sites we’ve worked on. But at nearly 100ft high it was sufficiently out of the way to be safer than many. A bonus was that instead of the flammable asphalt so often found on flat roofs this one had real stone pebbles which wouldn’t need protecting.
Wind can often be a major problem at firework displays since it will carry debris in whichever direction it is blowing. And in a windy coastal city like Southampton, boy does it blow! So you have to plan for the worst case situation. Choosing the right fireworks is of crucial importance.
As for the block of flats across the road, Andrew ticked that box for us by agreeing to notify the top floor occupants and advise them to watch from indoors!
Designing the show
Now to designing the show. Knowing the audience would be about 50 metres from the firing site was a good start but with all those plastic panels nearby we would need to choose our material very carefully.
This is where an in-depth knowledge of your fireworks comes into play. Which ones produce debris, which ones don’t? All this comes from years of experience, observation and refinement with our manufacturers.
With so many variables, like wind strength and wind direction, unseen hazards and stray spectators in places you haven’t planned for, we decided the safest option would be to send all the fireworks straight up, with only the slightest of angles to create a pleasing effect.
Health and Safety – Working with the council
As part of our risk assessment we plotted a fall-out area for any debris at a maximum distance of 30 metres and this was agreed with the city council’s health and safety officers. Knowing we had an almost sterile zone meant that we could include effects which would produce some very light cardboard discs and tubes but no burning debris.
Most of the fireworks chosen were comets and candles which burn up in the sky and produce no debris. For variety we added other effects that created colourful starbursts that popped and crackled.
What a result!
On the night the weather was with us. It was dry, clear and calm. Everything performed as designed and our client was very happy with the result. ‘The perfect launch night’ he told us. ‘We’ll definitely use you again.’