Igniting joy: Behind the scenes of a firework show (with photos)

By Erika Mahoney

July 4, 2013 Updated Jul 4, 2013 at 12:18 AM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) During the next few days, firework shows across the country will be bringing smiles to the youngest and oldest enjoying the sweaty summer air.

Most will be viewing the shows from a safe distance away, except a few, who will be right in the middle of the action.

Robert Hollenback, owner of Spencer-based Proximity Pyrotechnics, is one of those people. He got into the business after high school, and started his own company in 2001.

"There's a lot of behind-the-scene stuff that goes on," Hollenback said. "Weeks. Even months of planning a show like this."

On Wednesday, he and his team started setting up shop five hours before the big show at Hickories Park in Owego.

The process involves lining up mortars and staking them into the ground.

"Once they're all set, then we bring the fireworks out and set the boxes down and sort the shells out for effects," said Greg Brooks, lead pyrotechnician. "And then, once we set all the shells on top and have a good idea of how we want the shells, we drop them in. "

The preparation is peaceful and quiet. A completely opposite scene from showtime.

"When we are lighting them off, there's fire all around us," Hollenback said. "It's not just the shell going up in the air, but the lift charge creates a lot of fire. So as someone is lighting, we want to make sure we wear all cotton clothing so (if they catch fire) it doesn't burn to our skin. "

The show starts and begins electronically via laptop.

"Usually, he (Robert) starts the shows off electronically, so we get to see a few things go off, and then we get our cue," Brooks said. "And we start hand lighting. You kind of just get in the zone."

As thrilling as that moment is, both agree, the audience reaction is what makes their jobs.

"We wear ear protection, because we are so close to the guns, but you can still hear some cheering at the end of the show," Brooks said. "So that's one of the best parts, too. We know we've done our job right if we hear a large applause at the end of the show."

"And it makes everybody smile," said Hollenback. "It's like an international language. Everybody loves fireworks."

On Thursday, Proximity Pyrotechnics will be heading to Watkins Glen for another 4th of July show.