|photo: Robbyn Peck|
Q: How did you get into the fireworks business?
A: I grew up mostly on the Big Island and I started working in construction. At 21, I got my explosives license. In my mid-30s, I decided it [construction] was getting to be physically too hard, so I decided I needed to get into something easier. At the time, it was 1983 or so, there was one fireworks company on the island. It was called Fireworks Inc., and it was run by John Tsutsumi. He was a very educated, very thoughtful man and a great teacher. We worked very well together and he taught me everything I know today. I worked for him for 10 years. Eventually, he just decided he was going to retire and we bought him out, but it was more like a gift.
Q: What did you do when you became the boss?
A: We changed the name, the storage, a lot of things, and, in time, even the fireworks changed. And the business grew; now we do more than 150 shows a year. We design our own fireworks, and have them made to order in China. One is a shell that goes up in the air and two parachutes open up and a waterfall of sparks falls in between. We call it the waterfall. The other is the horsetail; when the shell bursts it gives a horsetail effect. We’ll be showing both on New Year’s Eve.
Q: How do you go about designing fireworks?
A: Creativity is the key to a good fire show. It’s like an artist painting on a canvas as big as the sky. We have four designers, and I trained every one of them. My daughter Stephanie has become very good at it and she now often has the last word.
Q: How many different types of fireworks do you use?
A: On New Year’s Eve, we have about 150 different effects, from chrysanthemums to willow to hourglass, stars, circles, smiling faces, Mickey Mouse, whistles, tourbillons. The list goes on.
Q: You’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. What’s changed?
A: A lot. The fireworks now are more reliable, the colors are deeper and brighter, they last longer, the effects are more interesting. But the regulations have gotten worse. You used to be able to use firecrackers in any amount you wanted. Now, you’re limited to a $25 permit and 5,000 pieces. Now, not only do you have to supply the names and addresses of all those who are going to handle the fireworks, but also the names of their relatives. And on the big nights, we use up to 75 people. Also, if you want to put up a show, even in a place like Magic Island that’s used a lot, you still have to turn in your application three weeks in advance. That’s very discouraging.
Q: Should home fireworks be banned?
A: Yes and no. Now we have a state law that bans certain types of fireworks, but allows others. I think [the counties] should ban fireworks in densely populated areas and allow them in sparsely populated areas.
Q: Have there been accidents in your business?
A: Accidents are inevitable, because explosives are unpredictable. Thank God, we’ve never had a fatality. Our worst accident was when my son-in-law was burned on his face and body, but he recovered and he’s still working in fireworks.