In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Russ Battiato is the authority on fireworks. A retired U.S. Army Sergeant and paratrooper, he recently impressed the crowds gathered in Christiansted for the St. Croix Christmas Boat Parade. Battiato is a master shooter associated with Pyrotecnico, a firework supplier out of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The company is one of the largest pyrotechnic businesses in the country, putting on the firework shows at major annual events like the college football BCS Orange Bowl.
Battiato is in the process of founding VI Pyro, of which he will be president. He feels St. Croix is a large market that has gone untapped by true [pyrotechnic] professionals for a long time.
The team working with Battiato includes Reuben Dowling, Billy Desmond, John Thompson and Cory Wert. In addition to public events, VI Pyro will also offer fireworks for private events like weddings (the minimum cost is $2500). Thanks to U.S. Virgin Islands Fire Marshall Johnny Frontal, who fully supports the VI Pyro team due to their professionalism and dedication to safety, they have been able to pre-approve the following locations for fireworks on-island.
Approved St. Croix firework venues:
- The Buccaneer
- Divi Carina Bay
- eat @ cane bay
- St. Croix Yacht Club
According to Battiato, it takes approximately seven hours to wire all the explosives to a controller box for a brief 15-minute show. His entire team needs to know exactly where each wire belongs. A barge serves as the floating platform for oversized mortar shells (five inches or larger), to keep the fireworks a safe distance from buildings. The cruise ship pier in Frederiksted allows for larger fireworks, so eight and ten inch mortar shells may be used for more dramatic finales.
“Many island firework displays are privately funded by donations from businesses and individuals,” said Battiato. “Shows are only as large as the funds we have to support them, so community involvement is key.”
Battiato will use GoFundMe to fundraise for what he hopes will be a major show for the 100 year anniversary of USVI Transfer Day at the end of March 2017. Monies go to cover the fireworks and permits required. To incentivize private donors, Battiato has established a VIP program that includes seating in a private viewing area close to the firework show with food and beverages included.
Next on Battiato’s calendar are fireworks for New Year’s Eve at the St. Croix Yacht Club, followed by the January 8 show (at 8 p.m.) for Three King’s Day at the Frederiksted Pier to close the Crucian Christmas Festival.
Russ Battiato has been involved in professional pyrotechnics since his retirement from active military service in 2005. He acquired these specialized skills during his 29 years of military service, assigned to learn demolition for tasks like explosive breach entry into buildings. Battiato was assigned to units such as the long range surveillance rangers and special forces (Green Berets). The largest firework show in which Battiato has participated is Pyrofest, a stateside event that brings together pyrotechnicians from around the world. The two-day event is sponsored by Pyrotecnico to thank their customers who purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of fireworks. Battiato’s favorite island event is the boat parade, as everyone can get involved. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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