The guy who lights up the sky

Andrew Robinson
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Sunnyside man's explosive career takes him from Newfoundland to Caribbean

Pat Farrell’s interest in pyrotechnics was born out of a childhood fascination with fireworks.
“It’s something that I always wanted to do as a kid there, because I saw the fireworks that were in our city in Regina,” said Farrell, who moved to Newfoundland and Labrador after meeting a woman originally from this province.


Now, the Sunnyside resident  handles pyrotechnics for summer festivals across the island and at resorts on Caribbean islands.

At age 19, Farrell did some investigating to find out how to train to handle fireworks. He came across a group in Ottawa willing to fly someone out to Regina to do a course.

“I took a course, and then it’s pretty much like an apprenticeship,” Farrell explained. “You have to do so many shows to get higher and higher until I got to the highest level there is in commercial fireworks. So that was about 25 years ago now.”

Though trained to handle film and stage work, Farrell has generally focused on commercial fireworks displays.

“I’ll do from smaller shows to big shows, including pyro-musicals and everything else.”

His setup involves using mortars to shoot the fireworks and firing boards, and he wears a full fire suit and shield for safety purposes.

In Newfoundland, Farrell travels to various smaller communities to perform fireworks displays.

“The ones I like best are the small-town ones,” he says.

“It’s not so stressful to set up the show, and I can join in. Lower Island Cove is one of my favourites that I do. Even though it’s a smaller show, I get to go to the celebrations and they always treat me like a king there with meals. Ray Johnson from Buddy Wasisname (and the Other Fellers), he’s on one of the town committees, and he always plays a lot of music and we have a good time. … That’s what I like about doing the Newfoundland shows.”

He’s also done events in the metro area. Winter tends to be a slow season, but Farrell does have a gig lined up for Feb. 23 at the Snow and Ice in Paradise festival.

“The summer it’s pretty much every weekend I’m going,” he said. “It’s a little intense.”

The Newfoundland market has proven more lucrative than Saskatchewan for getting fireworks gigs on a regular basis. He works for Fireworks FX based in Nova Scotia and also handles some private bookings.

Caribbean resorts are always looking for pyrotechnics. Farrell has so far handled shows in Barbados, Antigua and Cuba.

His favourite type of show involves aquatic fireworks. Special fireworks shells are shot into the water at a 45-degree angle before they explode 200 feet into the air. Farrell reckons he’s one of the few people in the province trained to handle such displays.

His annual show in Botwood usually involves a lot of aquatic fireworks. The biggest show he puts off provincially is the Bonavista Days summer festival.

Farrell gets his best fireworks shells from Spain. He says they have the brightest colours and the biggest sounds.

Farrell would still like to get involved in doing fireworks for live music performances, though he would need a refresher on some of his training. Doing the work full-time is also something he’d like to do — he has a regular job outside of his fireworks duties.

His skill set really comes in handy as the father of two young girls.

“They love to help with the shows there,” he said.

On their birthdays, Dad holds a special show for Anna, 6, and Sara, 4.

“Whenever it’s their birthday, I’ll do a small show in Sunnyside here over the bay,” he said. “The last and biggest shell, I actually have on remote, so they can actually fire the shell themselves. They love it.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Sunnyside, Caribbean Regina Ottawa Lower Island Cove Saskatchewan Nova Scotia Barbados Botwood Spain

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Recent comments

  • Paul Singh
    May 10, 2014 - 09:59

    Having been involved in fireworks since being a child, this was a lovely article to read. Many thanks :)

  • wavy
    February 08, 2014 - 12:07

    I don't know where that third photo was taken but based on that multi-leveled building in the background, it definitely wasn't anywhere on the Eastport Pen.

    • Patrick Farrell
      February 10, 2014 - 17:41

      That last picture was in Regina Sask. The article did not use the picture of the beach at Eastport from seafest that i also included. Just a bit of a mixup

  • Patrick Farrell
    February 08, 2014 - 08:26

    Thank you for the article. All the places i have done shows Newfoundland is the best. To be able to travel around this wonderful province to do the shows here there is nothing like it. Newfoundland people are the best.