Quick Q&A With Pyrotechnician John Maxwell

We caught up with the director of the Regions Bank Freedom Blast before the big bang.

So, you’re on top of a building, 380 feet in the air, with explosives firing all around you. Any scary moments?
Yeah, a few years ago, we had a shell land on the roof, sending one of my workers to the hospital. Luckily, he was wearing fireman’s gear, so he didn’t get hurt too badly.

How do you communicate up there?
Everybody wears earplugs, because there’s no way you could talk during the show. It’s like being in a war zone. If someone makes a funny motion, we start looking to see if something has gone wrong. It could be a fire on the roof, or something has landed that hasn’t detonated yet.

You’ve been at this for decades. What has changed?
When we started out, we would just randomly pick shells and fire them by hand. Now, we sit at a control panel and push buttons. Still, it’s a lot of fun. For a 25-minute show like this, we bring 10,000 shells.


This interview appeared in the July 2014 issue.