Career in fireworks has been a blast

Stonington - By day, resident Jeff Schneider is the vice president of marketing and sales at ASA Environmental Products Inc., a business he started with his wife, Ana. But by night, he has participated in some of the world's largest fireworks shows as a senior pyrotechnician with Fireworks by Grucci.

It was a 1979 job in New London that led to Schneider's involvement with the famous fireworks company, which has been hired for presidential inaugurations and the Olympics. Schneider handled logistics for the city's Marine Commerce and Development Committee when it held an anniversary celebration for the United States Coast Guard. The event included a small fireworks show, and he offered to help the team on the barges.

The next year, he suggested that the fireworks be combined with SailFest and handled the logistics for the fireworks show himself. It was that experience that led him to join Fireworks by Grucci. He still prefers working on barges to working on rooftops, and has burn marks that attest to his work in the years before additional safety measures were taken to protect workers.

Now he has more than 30 years' worth of stories, some of which he shared during a lecture at the La Grua Center in the borough on Sunday evening. With the help of a colorful slideshow, Schneider told an audience of more than 50 people about fireworks shows he's worked on around the world, from Westerly to Dubai.

Schneider described some problems he encountered when he ran New London's millennium fireworks display - not because of the rain, but because of the wind. While fireworks can be shot through the polyethylene covering during rain, the wind caused debris from the 12-inch shells he fired that day to be scattered farther than anticipated, falling on some people observing the show.

Because of the complex computer and radio system used to control the fireworks display, they were able to disarm every 12-inch shell "with the click of a mouse" and continue the show without a problem.

Outside of that anecdote, Schneider spent most of the lecture discussing shows in far-away places, where he helped organize particularly impressive displays of fireworks.

In Shanghai, Fireworks by Grucci coordinated pyrotechnics across 10 barges the size of football fields and 23 rooftops for the 2001 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, an event Schneider described as "China's introduction to the world economic stage."

They also shot fireworks off the Oriental Pearl Tower, which was the tallest structure in China at the time. There was so much radio frequency at the top of the tower that it ignited the electric match the company uses to start the fireworks display, said Schneider.

Schneider was one of eight people who flew to Shanghai for the rehearsal show, which he said was as big as SailFest in New London. The Americans had some trouble communicating with the employees of the Chinese company at first, but once preparations were underway, coordination became easier. If Schneider wanted someone to do a task, all he had to do was start the job and they'd come take over.

"We had the language barrier," said Schneider, "but we all speak fireworks."

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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