Grucci family preps for Westport's fireworks
Published 1:24 pm, Friday, July 2, 2010
On Thursday, a barge and two trucks in Brooklyn, N.Y., were loaded with enough fireworks to turn the sky into a spectrum of colors with its packaged fire and brimstone. The explosives came from all over the world, from as far as China to home-grown incendiaries developed in the U.S., and the final destination of the ship was nearby.
Once the barge was fully loaded, the six-hour ride on the Long Island Sound to Westport's Compo Beach began this morning. With thousands expected in attendance tonight, the fruits of more than 100 hours of manpower and years of refinement will come together in the eighth fireworks show in Westport to be put on by the Grucci family.
"Westport is not a little show," said Donna Grucci Butler, president of Fireworks by Grucci, a family-run company that has been in business for more than 150 years. "It's probably one of the biggest municipality programs we have, to be honest with you."
She would know. After all, past shows organized by the company have included presidential inaugurations (seven of them, to be exact) and Olympic ceremonies (both summer and winter). The crown jewel of their portfolio is a show in Dubai in 2008 that was the biggest fireworks display in history.
All of this fits in with one of their slogans that can be heard over the phone when placed on hold: "from the firehouse to the White House."
Each year, the program is modified and new fireworks and technology is developed so that Westport's Independence Day celebration -- organized by the Police Athletic League (PAL) -- is bigger and better.
The show is scheduled to last 25 minutes, with a nonstop barrage of fireworks. The letters "PAL" and "USA" will erupt from some of the fireworks, and so will some smiley faces.
"That will be a very nice crowd pleaser," said Grucci Butler.
On Thursday, Jeff Engel, the chief pyrotechnician at Fireworks by Grucci, was busy prepping for the Compo Beach show. He had to account for the 500-plus shells that will be launched, ensure that the timed fireworks will go off without a hitch and oversee seven other people involved in the project. With thousands watching the barge, he will be about 75 feet away in the command center to launch the fireworks remotely.
"We'll be able to hear the roar of the crowd," Engel said, who described it as instant gratification.
He had a hand in the world record fireworks show in Dubai two years ago and will be traveling to Indonesia next week to light up the sky for a wedding. Despite those world-class events, he believes there is something special about Westport's waterfront show.
"On the water you get a nice reflection. You get a nice background with no lights or anything so people really get to see everything," Engel said. "There's nothing in the way."
The Police Athletic League has been raising funds from its annual fireworks show for more than 50 years, and Lydian Asset Management of Westport has been sponsoring the event for the last several years.
Today, Compo Beach will be closed at 4 p.m. to all but fireworks ticket holders. As of Thursday, approximately 200 tickets were left out of 2,000. They can be purchased at the Police Department or the Parks and Recreation Department at Longshore. The beach entrance will close at 4 p.m. and reopen as soon as people without tickets are cleared from the parking areas.
In recent years, fireworks shows across the country have been scaled back or called off, according to Grucci Butler. Despite that trend, this year has been busy for the company described as "the first family of fireworks." The phone has been ringing nonstop and shows are scheduled this weekend in Dubai, Florida, Las Vegas, Hawaii and elsewhere.
The reason for the popularity of things that go boom, according to Grucci Butler, is that they are able to transcend generations and remind people of their childhood.
"It always amazes me the amount of people that fireworks draws to an event, and it's got to be because when you're looking up there and you're seeing the beautiful colors in the sky, it makes you forget some of the things that are going on in your everyday life," she said.