Samui Wining & Dining
FIRE WORKING
A look at what makes Samui Fireworks one of the safest and most spectacular
pyrotechnic displays in Thailand.

A look at what makes Samui Fireworks one of the safest and most spectacular pyrotechnic displays in Thailand.Folks are fascinated with fireworks. In Europe they’re tightly regulated and every show pulls a crowd of thousands, but Thailand is much more easy going. Anyone can buy fireworks at any time, and there are no real laws about using them. As a result, every night, somewhere on Samui, you’ll hear or see another thumping cascade of lights spreading across the heavens. It’s so common as not to be special any more. But it is! No matter how often it happens, people will come out of the bars and restaurants, onto the streets and beaches, all staring, mesmerised, at the sky.

          

Enter, stage left, an Englishman by the name of Alan Brewis. He was born and bred in Sunderland. And, even as a young man, had something strange about him! You know how quite often you’ll hear a top chef say that he always wanted to cook? Well Alan, from as far back as he can remember, was always utterly obsessed with fireworks. When he was a kid, on Fireworks Night, he’d go around the streets, from one back alley to another, organising the other kids into a series of parties, and pooling all the penny-fireworks together to make one big street show after another.

          

After a few years, he’d graduated to become a fireworks-show groupie. Every big event, there he was, inside the ‘staff only’ area, watching, learning, and eventually helping to set and check the fireworks. “I was only 14,” he told me with a grin, “but I was adopted like a mascot. These big once-a-year events, like on New Year’s Eve, take months of planning and need a big team, all working in complete synchronisation, to make it both safe and workable. This was my ‘apprenticeship’. I learned every single element of putting together a show, and how to do it properly and safely.A look at what makes Samui Fireworks one of the safest and most spectacular pyrotechnic displays in Thailand.” Time passed and Alan qualified as an engineer, but still followed his obsession, even inventing new forms of electronic triggering devices and time-lapse sequencers.

          

Fast-forward to 2001. After many sorts of ups and downs along the way, Alan had arrived to stay on Samui. “I spent a while looking around for a way of making a living,” he continued. “And it didn’t take long to realise that there was a big gap in the market. Thailand was becoming the weddings capital of Asia. And Samui was rapidly going the same way. So I opened a firework shop, and started to hire myself out for parties and festive occasions. And things just got bigger and bigger!”

          

Today, Samui Fireworks has evolved into a trained and experienced group which numbers 10 to 12 people. Each of the three teams has an overall leader supervising several ‘jobbers’ who fetch and carry, plus a ‘setup’ who places and connects things all together. And the leader and the setup double-check each other, so that the final set up is all triple checked in every respect. “But,” added Alan, “that’s the last stage of the process. I personally go to each site several days in advance and do a site check and risk assessment. And every now and then I have to turn a job down. We’re far too close to the spectators, perhaps. Or there are too many buildings close-by. Or even that, because of a long period of no rain, we’re surrounded by long grass that’s bone-dry. I will not risk damage to people or property, even if I have to reluctantly say no.”

          

But the way that everything gets put together today is light-years away from bottle-rockets and blue touch-paper that was lit with a match. Have you ever seen videos of big pop concerts, with all the sound desks and mixers and sequencers connected with wires that all feed into a linked series of computers? Well that’s exactly what each of the control consoles are like with Samui Fireworks – there’s well over one million baht worth of remote-firing sequencers and control equipment to draw upon, used in different combinations according to each job. A look at what makes Samui Fireworks one of the safest and most spectacular pyrotechnic displays in Thailand.And, to give you an idea of the potential, the maximum combined and programmed number of sequenced fireworks, using this set-up, would be 3,600!

          

But when I say ‘fireworks’ these might not be what you’re familiar with. At this level, nearly everything comes as a kind of ‘cannonball’ that’s exploded upwards out of re-usable fibreglass tubes. (Alan uses heavyduty custom-made tubes that are made to triple safety standards.) All professional fireworks now are in this format, sometimes even blasting giant sky-bombs from 18-inch diameter mortars.

          

But not Alan. “Yes, Thailand is unregulated in this respect – but this is way over the top. You can hear these things from the other side of the island sometimes. And it’s unbearable for people living nearby. So I’ve come down and down in size, by trial and error, and have now settled on smaller formats. And even these are plenty loud enough for the spectators.” It almost sounds disappointing, doesn’t it! But not when you’ve seen one of Alan’s shows. Even using these moderated power settings, a recent show at Four Seasons was simultaneously enjoyed by diners on the beach in Maenam, over eight kilometres away!

          

With all this pyrotechnic pleasure so easily on tap just for the asking (together with a suitable fistful of dollars) it’s not really surprising that Alan and Samui Fireworks aren’t the only big bad bangers on the beach. But it’s been suggested that they are the only really safe ones, not only being fully-licenced by the Thai authorities, but also a member of, and qualified by, the international Pyrotechnics Guild International, a worldwide body dedicated to professional fireworks safety and excellence.

          

“We do more shows than even Disneyland,” Alan exclaimed with a grin. “We regularly put on more than 40 ‘shoots’ a month, and have even done six on one evening. And, never, once, thank God, have there ever been any spectators hurt, or any property damaged. I couldn’t bear the thought of that. It would destroy my pleasure and sense of achievement. No matter how much fun it may seem, if you’re working with fire then you need to understand it and respect


it.” And there’s just no arguing with that!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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