Pyrotechnician David Chuljian sets firing mechanisms with his team as they prep on Wednesday afternoon for the fireworks display finale of the Old School 4th of July at Fort Worden. By his count, Chuljian said there are 232 large and medium-sized mortars and several smaller ones worth 15 minutes of booms and flash. He’s been lighting off fireworks, legally, for 35 years. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Pyrotechnician David Chuljian sets firing mechanisms with his team as they prep on Wednesday afternoon for the fireworks display finale of the Old School 4th of July at Fort Worden. By his count, Chuljian said there are 232 large and medium-sized mortars and several smaller ones worth 15 minutes of booms and flash. He’s been lighting off fireworks, legally, for 35 years. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Pyrotechnican tells of work to prepare for fireworks shows

PORT TOWNSEND — The man behind Wednesday night’s fireworks display, David Chuljian, has packed and shot his own fireworks for 35 years.

His dad was a pyrotechnician and that’s how he got interested in the business. He can’t remember how many years he’s been involved in Port Townsend’s events.

“I remember when we shot them off of a barge in Port Townsend Bay,” he said.

This year, Chuljian and his team set up the finale to the Old School 4th of July festivities beginning Wednesday morning at the beach at Fort Worden.

The group first had to build a ramp for a 4-wheel drive vehicle to haul the precious cargo of colors and sounds over the dunes to the launch site.

“Mortars burst when they are at the top of their apex,” Chuljian said.

“Each tube gets one shell; its fuse leads to an electric component — an e-match — that lights the fuse, so we don’t have to be here hand-lighting each one. The e-match is connected to the rail, a panel of 32 switches with wires that run up to a control panel located away from the beach. That’s how we set them off.”

He said that sometimes a few don’t get lit off and he has to run over and do it by hand. In the dark.

Chuljian took an inventory to make sure all shells were accounted for.

“We have 99 5-inch that make more of a colorful pattern. There are 108 4-inch, and 25 3-inch mortars— these are the ones that make the loud “booms,” he said.

And then there is “cake.”

“Cakes are a whole bunch of little fireworks that make small bursts. There are a lot all bundled together.”

He estimated that when launched, the mortars reach up to 300 feet.

“We have a certain amount of money to buy these fireworks for this show and this site limits us to what we can do. We need to keep the public safe. We can’t have the larger shells here, the ones with effects such as faces or other images.”

The Port Townsend show typically lasts 15-18 minutes, although he has done shows in other communities that last longer and have larger mortars.

Chuljian’s all volunteer staff included Troy and Lisa Marks from Arlington; Bill Stabile, Aaron McComas, Steve Kraght and Steve Goodwin from Port Townsend and Susan Disman from Seattle.

For each show, he said Wednesday, he has on-hand fire extinguishers and a water pump that can take salt water. His team is stationed around the perimeter to keep everyone safe and firefighters are standing by.

At the end of the show, the team unscrews everything, takes the wiring out, collects all the trash and hauls it back over the sand dune and back to the road and to an undisclosed location.

“We usually end our day at 2 am,” he said. “We’re getting tired of this. We’re all pretty old. Most of my crew is over 60.

“There seems to be a shortage of younger people interested in doing this. We have no one under 50 in the crew. A bunch of us are in our 70s. It’s not a dying art, but it’s hard to find young crew members.”

“When I was a kid, we used to make our own stuff all of the time,” he reminisced.

“We don’t make any fireworks anymore. ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) frowns on that.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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