AMERICA’S NATIONAL FIREWORKS ASSOCIATION (NFA) – IT’S FOUNDING, ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND FUTURE GOALS
Presented at The 15th International Symposium on Fireworks
Symposium International sur les Feux D'artifice
September 21-27, 2015
le 21 au 27 septembre 2015
National Fireworks Association
Kansas City, MO USA
Joseph R. Bartolotta
Bartolotta and Associates, LLC
Waukesha, WI USA
Roger L. Schneider
Rho Sigma Associates, Inc.
Whitefish Bay, WI USA
Envisioned by the late Mr. Cameron L. Starr, the NFA was founded in Kansas City, Missouri
in 1994 by a group of fourteen US fireworks company owners. The primary purpose for the
establishment of the association was to provide a collective voice for the many small, “mom
and pop,” fireworks business operators in addressing government regulatory issues and
concerns. It would also seek to provide input into the establishment of fireworks standards
and codes. Since its inception to the present, the NFA represents both display and consumer
fireworks business interests, and its membership is open to all fireworks companies,
regardless of size, and to individuals interested in promoting innovation in and the safe use of
In 2000, the NFA organized and held its first annual convention, entitled the “NFA Trade
Show” in Omaha, Nebraska. At that time, the membership numbered 156 and about 40
registrants attended the convention. In 2002 the convention was renamed the “NFA Expo.”
The 21 year old organization now has more than 1,200 international members. At the 2014
NFA Expo, held in Branson, Missouri, the total attendance was 1,236, comprising
international participants and the trade shown, at full capacity had 178 booths, with several
more wait-listed. More than 30 fireworks displays, demonstrating new products were
performed. Eight invited speaker seminars were conducted dealing with regulations and
standards, fireworks technology, and one detailing the Mexican fireworks industry. The NFA
has certainly grown in size and stature.
This paper serves to further introduce the NFA to the international fireworks community. The
NFA’s founding and developmental history, its accomplishments as an advocacy
organization, its major role as a showcase for the fireworks trade, and its goals and
aspirations, are presented and discussed.
America’s National Fireworks Association (NFA) has since its inception in 1993 been
dedicated to the widespread availability and safe handling and usage of consumer and display
fireworks in the United States.
The NFA is a trade organization, incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania as a tax-exempt,
non-profit corporation, “501(c)(3)”, and is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri.
It comprises fireworks companies and their representatives, fireworks clubs and their
members, and individuals. Besides members in the US, members in China, Canada, the UK,
Australia, Sweden, Mexico, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Surinam are included in the ranks.
As is the case with many trade organizations, the NFA was born in response to what was
considered by many members of the US fireworks industry to be the overzealous, capricious
and unfair enforcement of federal regulations by the US Consumer Product Safety
Commission (CPSC) and the US Department of Transportation (DoT) in the early 1990s.
Many fireworks distributors and retailers strongly felt that both the CPSC and the DoT were
focused on eliminating consumer fireworks in the US, rather than working with the industry
to promote safety in the transportation and end-usage of fireworks.
Founding of the NFA
No discussion of the NFA would be complete without mentioning its founder, the late
Cameron “Cam” Starr. Cam Starr was an impassioned, dedicated, innovative and often times
an undeterred and impatient advocate for the American fireworks industry. He was an
importer, distributor, retailer and manufacturer of display and consumer fireworks. He was
involved in fireworks most of his life, from the age of 11 in 1947 until his death at the age of
79, with only a few years absence from the business during that period1.
Cam recounts in his “The History of the NFA2”, that in 1992 he had dinner with fireworks
businessman, John Blogin (husband of coauthor Nancy Blogin (NB)) and another fireworks
company owner. During the evening, the discussion turned to fireworks and all the problems
with government regulation that the industry was experiencing. They decided a new, strong
trade organization was needed to address these problems and that he would take the lead on
On August 20, 1993, Starr issued a clarion call to many fireworks companies in the US to
join him in the creation of the new trade organization that would represent their business
interests. In response to initial inquires, he wrote in another letter, dated August 24, to
“Fellow Fireworks Lovers;”
To clear up possible misunderstandings: We are not striving to eliminate valid regulations
genuinely contributing to safety. We do wish to eliminate regulations that create little but
headaches and result in unlevel playing fields. We want everyone treated equally.
Thirteen owners of the fireworks companies contacted, responded and agreed to meet with
Starr on September 11, in Kansas City, MO to formalize the new organization. Cam’s initial
title for the group was, the “United Fireworks Firms of America.” At the meeting, it was
decided the organization would be incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania as a non-profit,
Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), its headquarters would be in Kansas City, and that it
would be entitled, the National Fireworks Association (NFA). Full and Associate
membership categories and the attendant dues were established along with several other
organizational details, and Cam Starr would serve as the NFA’s first president. The initial
goals of the NFA were memorialized in the meetings minutes3 and included, (1) to provide a
voice for the entire US fireworks industry, (2) establish uniform and reasonable regulatory
fireworks standards and associated testing procedures across all government agencies, and (3)
make accountable all duties, tariffs and surcharges, and fees as they apply to the fireworks
industry. It was not to be a social group, but an organization dedicated to the welfare of the
US fireworks industry.
Starr and the other 13 participants in that first meeting clearly understood the important roles
the USCPSC and the USDoT play in ensuring respectively, the safe use and transportation of
fireworks. They did not question the authority of these two federal agencies, but sought only
to be treated fairly and without preconceived notions.
In addition to the founding of the NFA, Cam Starr is credited with several innovations,
including, (1) the introduction of the naming convention of #100, #200, #300, etc. to denote
the costs of manufacture and hence, purchase price for single-shot tube devices, (2) the
introduction and ultimate governmental approval of the highly popular multi-shot, 500 g
cakes, and (3) the invention of pattern shells, such as hearts and smiley faces.
With the enthusiastic help of NFA member Gary Dusterwinkle, Cam also designed in 1995 the NFA logo,
shown in Figure 1. Shown in Figure 2 is the NFA logo, attesting to the association’s embrace
of modern social media.
Figure 1 - NFA logo Figure 2 - NFA logo - Facebook
The NFA logo embodies three themes which Starr considered foundational to the NFA. The
background shows a stylized burst of an aerial firework, which is apropos to the fireworks
business. Imposed upon the burst is the image of the American Bald Eagle, the national bird
of the USA and an indisputable symbol of freedom and liberty. The head of the eagle faces
left and matches the image and orientation of the eagle’s head on the Great Seal of The
United States. Below the eagle are the scales of justice, which not only imply justice and
fairness, but symbolize the weighing of evidence. The weighing of evidence was considered
by the NFA members as crucial in the decisions made by regulatory agencies, where the
decisions must be based upon accurate information, without any agenda bias. It is interesting
and perhaps intentional, that Starr chose the scales, since many of the disputes with the CPSC
at the time centered on alleged overloadings (excessive weights) of pyrotechnic compositions
in consumer fireworks.
While Cam Starr was all business when it came to the goals of the NFA, he was not without a
good sense of humor. He was good friends with the late Santo “Sam” S. Bartolotta (father of
coauthor Joseph R. Bartolotta (JRB)), founder of the US firm, Bartolotta’s Fireworks Co.
Whenever the two met, the first thing Sam would say to Cam is, “Please don’t die before me,
or I will be the ugliest man on earth.” The long running joke, which both enjoyed, was
prophetical, as Sam preceded Cam in death.
The growth of the NFA and its Expos
The de novo NFA solicited membership primarily by word of mouth and correspondence
with prospective member companies. In 2000, the NFA organized and held its first annual
convention, entitled the “NFA Trade Show” in Omaha, Nebraska. At that time, the
membership numbered 156 and about 40 registrants attended the convention. The schedule of
events included general business meetings, ad hoc committee meetings, invited speaker
seminars, the trade show with only 5 exhibitors, and fireworks demonstrations providing
finales to evening barbeques. A second NFA Trade Show was held the following year, also
in Omaha and, reflecting substantial growth in membership, had more than 15 exhibitors and
a more robust schedule of activities. Fireworks demonstrations again embellished the evening
barbeques. For the third annual convention in 2002, the name was changed to the “NFA
Expo” and was again held in Omaha. Over the next twelve years, the NFA Expos were held
in different cities: Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (2004-06, 08), Covington, Kentucky (2007),
Billings, Montana (2009), Springfield, Missouri (2010), Stevens Point, Wisconsin (2011),
Joplin, Missouri (2012), Sioux Falls, South Dakota (2013), Branson, Missouri(2014) and
Kingsport, Tennessee (2015). Each year saw a sustained growth in membership and
attendance at the Expos.
The 21 year old organization has now more than 1,200 members. The 2014 NFA Expo in
Branson had a total attendance of 1,236, comprising participants from the US, China,
Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Australia, Sweden, Great Britain, and Puerto Rico. At full capacity,
the trade show had 178 booths, with several more wait-listed. More than 30 fireworks
displays, demonstrating new product were performed. Eight invited speaker seminars were
conducted dealing with regulations and standards, fireworks technology, and one detailing
the Mexican fireworks industry.
Coauthor JRB was elected president of the NFA in 1995 and held that position until 2012.
Prior to her appointment as the Executive Director, coauthor NB, was the elected secretary of
the NFA and served in that role for sixteen years. During their tenures, membership and
attendance at the NFA Expos grew substantially, and the NFA became very active in
mounting legal actions on behalf of its membership, all with the full support of president
emeritus, Cam Starr.
In the mid to late 1990s, Shelton Fireworks, an importer, distributor and retailer of consumer
fireworks, had experienced considerable problems with the seizures at the port of entry into
the US of fireworks from China that the firm had purchased. The seizures were based upon
sampling and testing of various products, taken from shipping containers, by the US
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which judged the fireworks to be in noncompliance
with regulations. With some financial and a great deal of moral and factual support from the NFA, Shelton
challenged the CPSC in federal court, in the case entitled, Shelton, et al and The National
Fireworks Association, Ltd. v. USCPSC, et al, arguing that the seizures were unwarranted.
The court ultimately ruled in January 1999 against the plaintiffs, Shelton and the NFA,
primarily on the basis that the CPSC, as a federal agency was entitled to deference. As such,
the CPSC could rightfully interpret and enforce as they saw fit, the regulations as set forth in
US Code of Federal Regulations, 16, Commercial Practices, as they pertained to consumer
fireworks. However, in its decision, the court did agree with Shelton and his expert witness,
coauthor Roger Schneider (RLS), that many of the tests and procedures employed by the
CPSC to evaluate consumer fireworks were flawed and needed prompt correction. In the
Judge’s comprehensive ruling, the following footnote appears in part:
“It may be worth noting, however, that judicial deference is neither blind nor deaf. Some of
Shelton-NFA testimony and contentions were persuasive, and occasionally the CPSC, with its
myriad responsibilities, seemed somewhat out of its depth. Although the agency is largely
successful here, it is to be hoped that this litigation has been a useful learning process for the
agency, and will promote some useful reforms—perhaps in cautious cooperation with
regulated parties and knowledgeable persons.”
The judge’s words proved to be a catalyst for change. In the early 2000s the relationship
between the CPSC and the fireworks industry saw a marked improvement.
In 2010, an environmental advocacy group in Southern California brought forward to the
California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB) San Diego Region a claim that
public displays of fireworks were causing widespread irreparable harm to the environment,
more specifically the inland and coastal waters of Southern California. The group cited
anecdotal and qualitative evidence in support of their claims. None of the claims were based
upon systematic quantitative measures of the alleged pollution. As an example, the group
claimed coastal waters contained levels of selenium, nickel, and manganese, which increased
substantially following fireworks displays. This claim was mystifying as these elements are
not used in fireworks compositions. In December 2010, the NFA challenged the claims made
by the environmental group at a daylong workshop organized by the CRWQCB, and in
correspondence with the board prior to and following the workshop. The NFA argued both
the technical (by RLS) and legal bases of the claims were seriously flawed, and after
prolonged deliberation, the WQCB ultimately agreed. The fireworks displays have continued
to date, with a modest water quality control permit requirement imposed.
THE NFA TODAY
The NFA has three levels of membership; “Full-Voting,” “Associate”, and “Friends of
Fireworks.” All three membership groups comprise individuals each who have expressed by
joining the NFA an interest in the preservation and advancement of the US fireworks
industry. It is the interests of the Full members that the NFA is focused and dedicated.
Full-Voting membership is open to fireworks companies and individuals who are
directly engaged in a fireworks business. This includes fireworks importers, distributors,
retailers, and individuals with no specific company affiliation. Full members are current with
the payment of dues, entitled to make motions and vote on all matters coming before the
NFA, and may serve on committees and hold office. Full members receive the monthly NFA
Newsletter and a discount on the registration fee for the highly popular annual NFA Expos.
If the Full membership belongs to a fireworks company, each and every officer, director and
employee of the firm who attends the Expo is entitled to the registration discount.
Associate membership is open to businesses, organizations, associations, fireworks
clubs or groups, and individuals which are not directly involved in a fireworks business, but
provide materials, services or guidance to the fireworks industry. Associate members include
technical and business consultants, laboratories and testing firms, insurance companies and
brokers, law firms, office, packaging, and promotional material suppliers, and vehicle rental
companies. Associate members are current with the payment of dues, may serve on
committees, and have all the rights and privileges of Full members except those of making
motions, voting, and holding office. Associates receive the monthly NFA Newsletter and the
discount on the registration fee for the NFA Expo. If the Associate membership belongs to a
business, organization, association, fireworks club or group, each and every affiliate who
attends the Expo is entitled to the registration discount.
“Friends of Fireworks (FoF)” are fireworks enthusiasts, end-users, and even
collectors of fireworks memorabilia. Friends receive the NFA monthly newsletters, and the
discount on their registration fee for the Expos. They can serve on committees and enjoy
some but not all of the rights and privileges of Full membership. Friends can attend the NFA
general meeting held at the Expos, but cannot make motions, vote or hold office. The FoF
membership was created to afford opportunities for individuals to associate with a profireworks
trade organization and participate in many of its activities, at a very reasonable
The NFA Expos have for the past several years comprised a large trade show, with US and
international exhibitors, educational seminars, workshops, fireworks demonstrations and
competitions, social events, and even auctions of fireworks memorabilia. The very well
attended educational seminars and workshops are frequently on topics such as fireworks
technology, regulations and standards, insurance, safety, and business practices.
The fireworks demonstrations and competitions
The NFA Demonstration and Safety Committee (DSC) organizes the fireworks
demonstrations, and because of safety concerns and liability insurance requirements, the DSC
members also discharge all the fireworks involved. Only DSC members are allowed on the
display site during the demonstrations.
Each company providing fireworks for a demonstration, pays a fee to the NFA and provides a
completed form, called the Demo Sheet to the DSC. The Demo Sheet lists the details on each
specific product, the quantity to be used in the demonstration, the preferred location, the
order of discharge, and whether the demonstration is to be a 10 or 20 minute display. The
duration of the demonstrations is strictly enforced. The company delivers their fireworks to
the display site in the morning on the day the products will be demonstrated that night. The
DSC ensures the fireworks are Consumer Fireworks (1.4G), are in good condition and legal
for use in the US. The company’s products are placed on the display site according to the
Demo Sheet and wired for electrical (e-match) firing. In some cases, manual ignition is used.
As many as two representatives of the company may be on the display site grounds during
set-up, but only when escorted by a DSC member. This ensures none of the other
demonstrations, scheduled for the night are disturbed. On the night of the demonstration, the
company’s name, which is listed on a well-disseminated schedule, is announced just prior to
the commencement of the demonstration. Following each night’s displays, the DSC polices
the display site for unignited pyrotechnics and supervises the removal of inert debris in the
Beginning in 2015, a new style of fireworks competition is to be “launched” at the NFA
Expo. Towards encouraging NFA membership of fireworks clubs, the two clubs which enroll
the greatest number of new members in the NFA during the year prior to the Expo, are given
the opportunity to be fireworks display competitors for prize monies. On the first day of the
Expo, a Tuesday, the two competitors are given the same detailed list of donated consumer
fireworks which they will use to design their displays. Over the next four days, members of
both competing clubs will visit the trade show booths of the companies which donated the
fireworks to familiarize themselves with the nature of the fireworks they will use. They
design their displays and submit a Demo Sheet to the DSC, which then fulfills its normal
function. Local government officials from the Expo’s venue serve as judges to assess the two
displays, which are conducted on Saturday night, and select the winner. The winning club
receives a US$ 5,000 award and the other competitor, a US$ 2,500 award.
Closing the Expo on Saturday night, in finale fashion, is a very large professional fireworks
display of 1.3G product. The display is donated usually by the company conducting the
display. The display company is fully responsible for the acquisition of permits and insurance
coverage, and, of course, the design, set-up, and execution of the display, and the post display
policing and cleaning of the display site.
Future goals and aspirations
The NFA has not deviated from and continues to be focused on its primary goal of promoting
the widespread availability and safe handling and usage of consumer and display fireworks in
the United States.
Over the last three years the organization has taken a proactive role in advocating its
positions on governmental policy, legislation and regulations which are germane to the
fireworks industry. It desires to play an increasing role in these efforts, which requires the
financing of lobbyists. The NFA has tentatively formed a new affiliate organization, called
the Fireworks Preservation Association (FPA) with a goal of soliciting donations from
identified, potential sponsors to fund its planned lobbying efforts.
1. Rhinehardt, Matt, Cam Starr-Father of the 500 Gram, ’76 PYRO Magazine,
2. Starr, Cam, The History of the NFA by Cam Starr, NFA Website, [Accessed: 01 July
3. A collection of early NFA documents, including letters from Cam Starr, minutes of
meetings, and committee reports, provided by NFA Full Members, Robert and Beth
Kellner, Kellner’s Fireworks, Inc., Harrisville, PA, USA. Beth Kellner was the
secretary of the NFA from its founding in 1994 to 1996. Robert Kellner is the current