Meet the president of pyrotechnics
Featured

15 October 2018
Author   Rinelda Mouton

George Kuhn is currently the only certified Pyro Technician in Namibia and has been dazzling crowds with his firework flares for years.  Last Thursday evening we caught up with the president of pyro as he was busy preparing the fireworks display at the annual Windhoek Industrial and Agricultural show.George Kuhn is currently the only certified Pyro Technician in Namibia and has been dazzling crowds with his firework flares for years. 

Last Thursday evening we caught up with the president of pyro as he was busy preparing the fireworks display at the annual Windhoek Industrial and Agricultural show.
The annual Windhoek Show fireworks display has become a much-awaited entertainment spectacle sponsored by the Windhoek Show Society (WSS) each year. 
Pyro president Kuhn, who has been working in the industry since 2003, says its costs a fortune to host a fireworks display.  But, nevertheless, he did not disappoint in his showing as the smiling, clapping crowds oooh’d and aaah’d with eyes firmly fixed on the skies during the 15 minute colourful, pyrotechnical display.
The Executive Vice President of the WSS, Harald Schmidt, also said fireworks are very expensive, but they are one of the staples that make the Windhoek Show different from others in the country. “I have noticed that many Namibians enjoy fireworks. On the day of the display, they come in large numbers to enjoy it,” Schmidt said.
Pryo guru Kuhn lamented that the demand to join his industry is very limited in Namibia.  He said that many people are often discouraged to go into the industry, not only because of the obvious physical dangers involved in managing low level explosives, but because it takes too long to get certification. “You first need to do 25 displays. To achieve this is very difficult because Namibia only has about four fireworks presentations annually. To meet those requirements, therefore, can take many years,” he explained.
Fireworks first originated in China around 2,000 years ago and are a class of low explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes.  The loud, colourful, and amazing pyro displays are enjoyed around the world.  
Fireworks produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials (confetti for example). They may be designed to burn small amounts of various minerals and chemicals that fire up with coloured flames and sparks.  Gunpowder used in fireworks contains of 75 percent potassium nitrate (also called saltpetre) mixed with 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulphur.  Modern fireworks sometimes use other mixtures.  For example, the colour green can be produced by burning the element, boron. Purple is associated with the presence of potassium.  Arsenic produces blue as does copper, lead and indium.  Magnesium burns white and strontium burns red.  A long list of elements, minerals and combinations of minerals generate a wide range of beautiful colours when burned.  
There are numerous chemical/mineral ‘recipes’ for fireworks and the timing of the burns that produce blooms of colour, splashes, flowers, flashes, rockets, whiz-bangs, fizzes and other pyrotechnic display forms.  The various ‘recipes’ can be deep secrets within the fireworks industry.
Kuhn adds that to get all the needed equipment for a fireworks show in Namibia is also not easy. He normally imports them from South Africa. He said he is working in the industry as a hobby and not to make money.  When he is not maintaining his pyro presidency, he is the owner of a security company in Windhoek.
Kuhn says that preparing fireworks displays is not easy.   “You need to work in the burning sun, rain and wind. It also requires many working days. To work with fireworks is very risky;  if something goes wrong many people might be injured or die – fireworks are basically, controlled explosions.  It is therefore always best to have all things in expert order,” he said.   
Some Namibians actively discourage fireworks.  They complain that pyro displays scare their animals, cause sudden loud noises, smoke and smells.  Kuhn agreed that most animals don’t like fireworks. “I have six pets. Three of them enjoy the fireworks while the rest don’t.  But for me and for many others, fireworks are beautiful.   There is no need to try to end fireworks for everyone only because some cannot manage them.  These displays don’t take place every day and do not last long (10-20 minutes, maybe 2-4 times per year); if an owner can’t take care of their pets for these few minutes, then I don’t know,” he said annoyed. 
Kuhn emphasizes that fireworks are dangerous. Though he is a professional and certified, even he has suffered severe injuries to his hands due to his pyro work.  However, he said that most accidents occur among the public when amateur users of fireworks ignore the rules/instructions or fire-off the mini-explosives irresponsibly and ignorantly.  
Surprisingly however, Namibia’s fireworks laws are contradictory according to Kuhn.  “It is legal to sell them in a shop, but illegal to use them outside the shop,” he explained.

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