For the sixth consecutive year, Covington will continue its tradition of blasting off fireworks in the city’s town square this weekend.
Social Circle resident Juri Van Der Heijden, the man behind orchestrating the festive fireworks display, is “really excited” about the new editions to this year’s show, which will include specific music playing for individual firecrackers.
“Every year it gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “It’s going to be really good this year. It’s going to be a huge finale.”
Van Der Heijden has seen the Covington event grow from a few hundred in attendance in the first year to tens of thousands attending a year ago. The excitement and joy he sees on the faces of children and adults alike keep him doing the event year after year.
“Maybe one day I’ll say I’m too old, but right now I’m going to keep doing it,” the 43-year-old said. “Being local, it’s nice to be able to do a show for our community.”
He’s been either involved or conducting these types of shows for quite a while. Sixteen years to be exact. At the beginning, Van Der Heijden and his wife of 17 years, Deanna, were working as emergency medical life flight personnel in Cumming, Ga. Their boss asked them for assistance in setting up the Fourth of July celebration in Cumming.
Van Der Heijden says the two thought, “Why not?”
In doing so, the couple got a chance to experience first-hand how much work actually goes into making a fireworks show happen.
It was an eye-opening experience for Van Der Heijden.
“It’s not like going in the backyard and shooting off a bottle rocket,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much work went into the 20 to 30 minute show.”
That experience was all it took for the couple to get fired up about performing more shows. They both became certified professional pyrotechnicians, and Van Der Heijden currently works with Pyrotecnico, a Pennsylvania-based company, as a contractor to perform firework displays, which includes the show that happens in Covington.
Van Der Heijden does numerous shows throughout the year, including shooting off fireworks for sporting events, weddings, New Year’s Eve and several other occasions.
“Fireworks are usually for positive reasons, so it’s always great to be a part of the moment,” he said.
This week is by far his most hectic and requires a lot of travel time.
Starting July 1, he’ll make his way to Ft. Gordon to do their show. Then, he moves on to Augusta, Georgia on Thursday and then Cumming on Friday. He comes back to Covington Saturday for its show, and then his Fourth of July tour concludes Sunday in Rutledge, Georgia.
“For anyone working in this business, July 4 is definitely the busiest time of the year,” he said.
For his shows, Van Der Heijden depends on crew consisting of five to eight people. The crew is probably the most important function. Working alongside people who can follow safety regulations and manages to set up heavy equipment on time is a major plus and vital in regards to putting on a successful show, he says.
“I always stress it’s not only me, but there’s a lot of people behind me,” said Van Der Heijden. “If something goes bad with this it could be a life changing event.”
Thankfully, in his entire time as a pyrotechnician, no one has ever been injured while working on a show.
“We follow safety guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association,” he said. “We also do annual training.”
While Van Der Heijden and his wife love this industry, it’s just part of their professional lives. Van Der Heijden works as a physician’s assistant for the Athens Orthopedic Clinic, 5303 Adams Street, Covington, and Deanna works as a certified corporate jet pilot.
The couple have a 3-year-old son.