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Lowering the boom

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Hawaii Explosives & Pyrotechnics workers Scottie Kobayashi, above left, Chris Kawabata and Shoda Aoki prepared mortars Friday for Hilton Hawaiian Village’s weekly fireworks show at Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki.
  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    A close-up view of the mortars.
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For a Big Island-based professional fireworks firm, business wasn’t exactly booming during the recent recession.

Those fancy corporate parties with celebrity entertainment where the public isn’t invited? Hawaii Explosives & Pyrotechnics wasn’t invited to many either.

LIGHTING IT UP

Hawaii Explosives & Pyrotechnics Inc. is owned and run by the Pascual family on the Big Island. Formed in 1990, the company designs aerial fireworks productions, company logo burns and stage effects.
» Contact: 968-0600
» Website: www.hipyro.com

"It hasn’t been happening," said Donald Pascual, co-founder, and currently the company’s sales and safety coordinator. "How can companies tell their people that they’re laying folks off, but they’re spending $20,000 on fireworks?"

Hawaii Explosives & Pyrotechnics, founded by the Pascual family in 1990, specializes in professional fireworks, special effects, close-proximity pyrotechnics, confetti and laser shows. Count hotel properties like the Hilton Hawaiian Village and smaller island communities among their clientele.

But when the recession hit in recent years, many companies cut the fuse on budgeting for fireworks. They lost gigs in 2008, and they ended 2009 in the red.

"We’re the first guys they cut, and not the food, yeah?" Pascual, 56, said.

The company is contracted to do the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s weekly Friday night fireworks show. But during 2009, some nights were cut. Add rain-out days, and the company’s budget started to burn out.

The business had to let go of six of its employees last year. Now with 15 employees, the company was forced to diversify last year.

The family’s private ranch, 13 miles from Hilo on the way to Volcanoes National Park, is now being used for Pa’ani Ranch & ATV Adventures LLC. It offers zipline tours, horseback riding, rides on all-terrain vehicles and a petting zoo.

The ranch segment of their business caters toward locals. They have a Keiki Wrangler program with wagon and pony rides. It’s a different type of business altogether, but Pascual said the family has learned to adapt.

"Growing up on the Big Island, you grow up learning to be diversified," Pascual said. "Life in the country, you gotta hunt for your food, grow your own food, learn how to fish. You capitalize off the blessings you get."

With Independence Day coming up, the only red the company hopes to see is from the rockets’ red glare. The company has booked about 12 shows around the state, including Aloha Tower Marketplace, Schofield Barracks, Turtle Bay, Kailua-Kona and Lahaina. They even have a July 4 gig on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.

It’s a busy weekend coming up, and Pascual hopes to feed off the momentum.

"We’re gonna be using about 60 to 65 employees," Pascual said. "Afterward we will make that evaluation on whether some of them will stay."

The company is a year-round business, working mostly behind the scenes to put together various shows. The largest expense by far, Pascual said, is providing health and liability insurance for his employees. Then there’s shipping in the low explosives from China and the mainland. Then there’s the training they provide before every show, and for every new employee.

"When you look at the outcome, how we paint the sky, the people that enjoy and watch that have no concept of what is behind the whole thing," Pascual said. "It’s a lot more work than what people realize."

The recent troubles won’t stop the shows, though, Pascual said. Pascual comes from a lineage of explosives experts. His father was in construction, and he, along with many brothers and cousins, dealt in high explosives and demolition.

Pascual’s birthday is New Year’s Day. His 85-year-old father, Benjamin, celebrates his birthday on New Year’s Eve. For him, it was inevitable that he would ended up handling fireworks. His wife, Charlene, is the president of the company. His daughter Stephanie is vice president.

"It’s a very rewarding feeling to know that you’re entertaining people and bringing smiles and happiness," he said. "That’s why we do it as a family. I think the Pascual family will always be in pyrotechnics throughout our life in Hawaii — a family of fireworks."

 

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