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Boise State football's fireworks display was temporarily suspended after September mishap

Boise State football running out of the locker room onto the blue turf of Bronco Stadium, flanked in two columns by the BSU Marching Band and cheerleaders. Behind them, two columns of flames rise into the air and fireworks are blasting off from the top of the Bleymaier Football Center at the back of the photo.
Associated Press photo
FR171002 AP
The Boise State Broncos run onto the field before an NCAA college football game against Nevada in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Pyrotechnics at Boise State football games were paused for one game after a malfunction sent a firework over the crowd as the team took the field to face UT-Martin on Sept. 17.

Video taken by a fan and posted to an unaffiliated Bronco Nation football fan page on Facebook showed a firework bursting just above fans in the north end zone bleachers as the team was running onto the field.

An investigation by Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl determined that two fans were hit by burning embers, and that a Boise State coach who was exiting the team facility below the bleachers had a hole burned into his jacket.

“A bracket that is used to hold one of the pyrotechnics had failed,” Sandahl explained. “It had broken loose and set that particular pyrotechnic off on an angle that was unfortunately towards the crowd.”

The husband of one woman who was hit with an ember declined a recorded interview, but shared in a written message that once people in the north end zone seats realized what happened, fans were checking around them to make sure no one was seriously hurt. He posted publicly on Facebook that they left the game at halftime, and were only evaluated by first responders after speaking to an employee about the incident on the way out of the stadium. Boise State did reach out to them later, he said. No one was injured as a result of the incident.

“Any time you have a mishap, it results in a great deal of scrutiny and caution,” Fire Marshal Sandahl said.

All pyrotechnics at Boise State football games were suspended during the investigation, and the team took the field against San Diego State Sept. 30 with no special effects.

Marshal Sandahl said fireworks that are used in situations where humans are nearby, called "proximal audience pyrotechnics," burn at cooler temperatures compared to other large-show shells.

“You would have to be within just a few feet of the actual launch area for someone to be injured,” he said. “I think the important part to remember is nobody was injured because of the type of pyrotechnic that was being used.”

Pyrotechnics have been part of Boise State’s pregame introductions at football games for several years, with vertical flame effect devices on the field, and aerial fireworks exploding above the Bleymaier Football Center. The school contracts with Fireworks America of Idaho, the regional arm of a national pyrotechnics display company based in California.

The State Fire Marshal has a deputy at each Boise State game to inspect and sign off on the safety and operation of the devices, and a deputy was present at the game Sept. 17.

Fireworks America refused to comment about the incident, citing concerns over sharing proprietary information about the devices they use. The company’s Idaho Facebook page promotes recent shows at Boise Hawks games, Scentsy Commons and Meridian Speedway, among others.

Permission to resume the pyrotechnic display at Bronco football games was granted on Oct. 6, after Fireworks America of Idaho demonstrated a different fireworks launchpad device to investigators. In a letter to Boise State, Sandahl wrote that the brand of fireworks devices which failed Sept. 17 will not be allowed at future football games.

Sandahl did not express any concerns about Boise State continuing its relationship with the company going forward.

“Fireworks America is following all the policies that they've instituted, following all the rules that this office has instituted,” he said. “And I think that is a good reflection on why this wasn't a bigger or a more devastating outcome.”

Boise State did not comment on the incident, only providing Sandahl’s letter granting permission for pyrotechnic displays to resume at last Saturday’s game against Fresno State.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.