Chris Campbell is a pyrotechnician, working hands-on with fireworks, wiring them and setting them into displays. He works for Pyrotechnico, a Pennsylvania-based professional fireworks company that thrills and awes crowds at Progressive Field with the fireworks show for the Cleveland Indians.
Campbell watched the games as a 14-year-old boy. He was entranced with the fireworks as much as what was happening on the field. More than a decade later, he opened up an email from Pyrotechnico — he was being given his shot.
The work is sweeter because Campbell had to overcome attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, which has plagued him all his life. Campbell had a hard time focusing on teachers or classwork while in school. He continues to struggle with self-esteem. “But I got back and did it. I had goals set, and I achieved them,” Campbell said.
His head swam with such thoughts as he drove to Cleveland on the day of one of the fireworks shows. “I thought, ‘Holy crap, I am going to do it,’” Campbell said. “I knew I was going to Cleveland but could not believe I was going for a show.”
He has helped set up 10 shows this year, including a Rolling Stone’s tribute show called Rock & Blast, the biggest show of the year. His first show was for American Fireworks in Hudson. “I called them and said, ‘I love fireworks; I want to shoot them,’” Campbell said.
It took a year and a half. He filled out some forms and went through some training before finally getting his license. The job only lasted for a few weeks, but it was his first opportunity. Campbell was not discouraged and went to line up his next job. He bugged people with repeated phone calls and emails to various fireworks companies trying to find a job.
He eventually landed at Zambelli Fireworks, shooting at Cedar Point for a year. “To me it was like winning the Heisman,” Campbell said.
Campbell laughs when he recalls that as a child, loud noises scared him, even a car door slam. Fear turned into curiosity when a 7-year-old Campbell saw a Cedar Point fireworks show on the beach. “I wondered how are they doing that,” Campbell said. “Ever since that day anything fireworks related, even the smell of gunpowder. It’s incredible.”
With that experience from his time at Cedar Point, he moved on to Pyrotechnico, a company that feels comfortable to him. “I love this company,” Campbell said. “It feels like I should be here.”
William Campbell, Chris’s father, has proudly watched Chris come into his own. “His mom and I are both extremely proud of him. He talks to me about this stuff and the technical knowledge he has gained, especially with the trouble he had in school,” William said.
Chris growing up had family members who had activities they were good at, such as music. He was unable to find that, except for his love of fireworks, William said.
“To find something that was his, it was so great,” William said. “That was Chris’s all along.”