Patterson Pyrotechnics an explosive line of work

Goal of fireworks shows: flash, boom, 'ahhhh'
Mar. 15, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Eddie Jolly had been blowing stuff up his whole life. It never occurred to him he could make some money at it.

So when Vance Patterson approached him after a little July 4 fireworks display Jolly had put together for neighbors, using just the regular fireworks available to anyone, and suggested the two of them start a company staging fireworks shows, Jolly didn’t hesitate.

“As soon as he mentioned it, I was game,” he said.

Jolly, 40, had been working in a combination of radio, political commentary, TV and voice production. Now, you get the sense as he discusses the work of Patterson Pyrotechnics, which just opened in January in Granite Falls, that he has found his purpose in life. His face lights up, his eyes sparkle, he shifts in his seat as his energy builds, and you can sense the fire-happy 10-year-old boy inside him who still bears the scar on his foot from when he learned that burning plastic bottles will drip hot, liquid plastic on you if you’re not careful.

It’s a lifelong enthusiasm he said he shares with the five members of his crew.

“We’re country boys,” he said. “We’ve been shooting fireworks in North Carolina since we were old enough to hold a lighter and a Black Cat.”

The motto of Patterson Pyrotechnics, emblazoned on the rear bumper of the van Jolly drives: Maximus Boomus.

But you can’t simply go straight from sparklers, Black Cats and whatever else you can find in a roadside tent to a company shooting mortars as thick as a man’s fist for crowds at Lake James, where the company’s first show was on Jan. 11. Jolly and his team spent part of the past several months taking the safety and training courses required to become licensed by the Office of State Fire Marshal. Besides the training, the state requires crews to wear all-cotton clothing (if there’s an accident, cotton burns away, while synthetic fabrics can melt to the skin) and fire-retardant suits related to – but not nearly as sturdy as – what firefighters have.

One point of pride for Jolly is that the fireworks in his company’s shows are all fired off by hand, not fired to a pre-set schedule run by a computer.

“You can control the tempo of a show better than you can with electronic fireworks,” he said.

Plus, being close enough to light them yourself puts you that much closer to the mortar when it fires – which feeds the adrenaline rush that lured him to basic fireworks in the first place. The thrill of the bigger mortars and bigger blasts – if one of the mortars were to go off close to the ground, he couldn’t escape the 200-foot blast radius in time – combine with a thrill from something he didn’t quite expect when he started: the roar of the crowd.

He sounds a little addicted already.

“The more we get into it, the bigger I want to go,” he said.

And when he finally goes, as in the final goodbye, he wants to go big.

“I’ll have fireworks and music at my funeral.”