Planning for each year’s Independence Eve Celebration fireworks is a major task and begins not weeks before the fireworks, but months. The planning process is a collaborative effort among numerous individuals and organizations throughout the city. A lot of people are curious about what goes on behind the scenes to make the fireworks happen, so we thought we’d shed a little light on that.

A critical part of the planning is meeting with representatives from Pyro Shows, the company that designs our show and provides the pyrotechnics. During these discussions, we put together a plan for a unique display each year. The types and sizes of fireworks are decided on, including those with special colors, shapes, and effects.

Pyro Shows has competed in prestigious international competitions around the world, from Stockholm, Sweden to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They won first place in the North American Fireworks Competition in Norfolk, Virginia, and have provided the 4th of July fireworks at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. 13 times since 1995.

We’ve been fortunate to have forged a relationship with Pyro Shows staff which has resulted in significant discounts. This makes it possible to provide an extremely high-quality show on a small town budget. “Also, due to our incredible sponsors, we’re able to upgrade our fireworks each year,” said Main Street Board Chair Jim Bachrach, “Each year we try to add something new and different to the show to make it better than the year before.”

We also work with Pyro Shows months in advance on the patriotic soundtrack that accompanies the show. These always begin with a medley of popular songs, and then include more traditional pieces performed by the U.S. Air Force Band.

Two special clearances are required due to the explosive nature of the fireworks. Approval to bring the truckload of pyrotechnics into the city is required from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of the process. In addition, we must receive official clearance from the U.S. Coast Guard in order to position the fireworks barge in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Two days before the event, Fonda Davis and his crew come together to build the framing for the fireworks on the barge loaned to us by Tommy Ward of 13 Mile Seafood. These volunteers spend an entire day on the barge constructing wooden racks that match the specific characteristics of the show.

“We normally have six guys working on it,” said Davis. “We get a kick out of doing it for the community, knowing that it’s something for everyone to enjoy. The boards come cut to size and we nail the display together according to a diagram. For safety reasons, the frames are set up for different sizes of fireworks and nailed together so they don’t separate once the fireworks explode.” This is their fourth year doing this critical behind-the-scenes work.

After the framing is set up, Mike Cates, owner of Cates Electric Services, and his crew do the electrical work to wire up the pyrotechnics. Mike has 25 years of pyrotechnic experience and has volunteered his time for the past several years. “Of course, I couldn’t do it alone,” he said. “It wouldn’t be possible if my employees weren’t willing to volunteer as well. They have a really strong sense of community.”

Finally, Ward positions the barge in the river just off of Riverfront Park. During the event, just as the last note of the National Anthem is sung, Bachrach gives the signal, and the fireworks show begins to light up the sky. We think the reflection of the fireworks in the water makes the show all the more stunning.

The award-winning Independence Eve Celebration, which includes live music, food trucks, kids’ activities, parade, free ice cream social, vendors, a veterans’ tribute, and the National Anthem - in addition to the fireworks show - is held each year on July 3 at Apalachicola’s Riverfront Park. For more information on the event, or to reserve a table, please visit

Augusta West is executive director of Apalachicola Main Street, a non-profit organization dedicated to downtown economic development in the context of historic preservation. She can be reached at or (850) 274-1321. Main Street’s mailing address is 192 Coach Wagoner Blvd., Apalachicola, FL 32320.