Fire sales

Thursday, June 28, is circled on many nonprofit groups’ calendars as the beginning of a major fundraising push in fireworks sales. It’s also the beginning of a busy week for TNT Fireworks area manager Aaron Crawford. The third-generation salesman is TNT’s liaison to groups from northern Sacramento County all the way to Oroville. The season is not all whistles and crackles for Crawford, however. He spends his Fourth of July holidays on the road, making sure everything is running smoothly through a large swath of the Sacramento Valley.

How did you get here?

I’m third-generation at this. My grandfather started as a nonprofit stand manager in 1958. Four years later he started as a sales rep in the Bay Area. My father followed after him working during the summers in high school and became a sales associate. I started as a little kid working a little bit, but I started working more summers, went to college, stayed on when I graduated and moved up.

What are some of the big changes in fireworks you’ve seen?

There are different chemicals now and different colors. [They’re] a lot more vibrant than they were 10 to 15 years ago when everything was a lot of silver, gold and white light. Now you’ve got reds and yellows. We’re starting to see more blues and some pinks. … There’s been a shift away from whistles and toward crackles, but I’m sure that will come back around in a couple of years.

Mostly you’re working with nonprofits?

We work 51 weeks a year working with our groups, working with local and state agencies. … With a high-school booster group, the kids graduate and the parents move on, and you train a new set of volunteers … and ensure that it will be a smooth and easy transition for them.

What do you do on the Fourth of July?

On a normal Fourth of July, I’ll be at work at 6 a.m., travel to six or seven counties making sure my nonprofit organizations are finishing up well and head home at about 1 or 2 in the morning. On those normal years I don’t usually get to light off fireworks because my neighbors really don’t appreciate me lighting fireworks when I get home.

Last year, for the first time in about 15 years, I actually shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. I got off work at about 6 p.m. and had my little stash and went with a bunch of neighborhood families and friends and celebrated for about three hours. It was absolutely fantastic.

What is the most dangerous fireworks situation you can recall?

This is going to sound really boring, because there hasn’t been much of anything. I shoot probably 3,000 to 5,000 pieces of fireworks each year, and every once in a while you’ll get an item … you wait and make sure it’s out, and you walk up to it, and you go, “Whoop, I gotta step back.”

I’ve heard people suggesting ways to modify fireworks. My favorite is pinching off a Piccolo Petes to make it explode.

You know that doesn’t work anymore? We hear the stories like everyone else, and we do background to mitigate anybody modifying our product. I’d suggest if you try to do it, you’ll split the sides of the fountain, making it improbable to get them to go off incorrectly. There’s another thing where they’ve tried to pour out composition to make a bigger item, but there is composition in there besides the pyrotechnics—basically a silica—to make sure it doesn’t do that.

There’s something in there to keep you from doubling your pleasure?

Yeah, crimping doesn’t work, and modifying by pouring out the composition doesn’t work anymore. … You never really want to modify anything. It’s a felony. You’re breaking the law the moment you take it out of its intended packaging. The state fire marshal really doesn’t like that, and they’re very good at prosecuting those folks. A lot of times though, it just doesn’t work.

Have you noticed an impact from the recession?

We’re noticing a lot of the government organizations we work with—state and local—have been stripped to the absolute bone. They have no way to help the nonprofit groups like they had in the past. The nonprofit groups have had funding from communities dwindle, so they’ve had to be very creative with how they fundraise and how they use their money. They are definitely in need. It’s across the board. These nonprofits are the ones that are out there at the frontlines helping our communities get back on their feet, and they are struggling themselves. Any dollar we can help them raise, we’d love to do it.

Tell me about Senate Bill 1468.

It’s a fantastic Senate bill. It passed the Senate 37-0, and it’s sitting in the Assembly the last time I heard about it. We’re hoping they see their way through to passing it, and in 2014, we’ll be able to sell fireworks in the New Year’s season and give the community the ability to celebrate legally with fireworks. It’s exciting.

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