As American as apple pie, fireworks displays are a beloved tradition as the nation celebrates Independence Day. But along with the holiday comes another annual tradition — police and fire safety officials asking residents to back away from using illegal fireworks: “Hands off, kids. Leave that to the professionals.”
Who are those professionals? What ignites them to become licensed to shoot off fireworks in West Bloomfield Township? For two men, the passion for pyrotechnics is not driven by financial gain; rather, it has to do with patriotism, family and even religion.
Jason Trudeau of White Lake describes his company, Gen-X Pyrotechnics, as “the new generation.” As July 4 draws near, it’s easy to see why he takes his work seriously. Gen-X is scheduled to shoot off at a number of Oakland County lakes in the coming days, including at and on Sunday.
Trudeau incorporates a number of sophisticated firework technologies into his shows, including fireworks in the shapes of butterflies and shamrocks. He is able to coordinate two shows at a time by computer.
“It’s very safe,” Trudeau said. “The lakes are pretty labor-intensive, but it’s worth it. It re-energizes us — so that after the show, we get a burst of energy to clean it up well and move on to the next show.”
Trudeau, 42, said he nurtured his interest in pyrotechnics as a boy when he found unused fireworks. He is clear that he does not recommend getting started the way that he did, but he does not mind sharing that while growing up on Lake Sherwood near Milford, he used his rowboat to float out to a barge after a lakefront Independence Day spectacular, and he played with unused fireworks he found.
“I was maybe 10 then,” said Trudeau, a former construction worker who has worked as a pyrotechnician for 15 years. “We have certainly come a long way since then in many areas.”
However, Trudeau has not deviated from his love of fireworks — lakefront displays in particular. Gen-X does only lakefront shows, drawing on Trudeau’s passion and 18 years of living on lakefront property to offer what he believes to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
“Vacant lakefront property is few and far between around here, so to do a show means that you’re giving people an amazing time, and they don’t need to leave their backyard,” Trudeau said. "You get a whole new appreciation for the sound and visuals, watching it over the water.
“I get kind of lost in it because I find everything interesting," he said. "The most interesting thing to me, I guess, would be my sense of how far we’ve come, our whole history as a nation. To see people celebrating that history in such a way makes me very happy.”
Leslie Gold draws on a community that may be smaller in number — but not in heart. Gold, 61, of Bloomfield Hills has been shooting off fireworks at annual display for the past eight years, in part thanks to his devotion to the temple community.
“I donate everything I receive for the show to the temple so that the cost is zero for them. I’ve been a member of the congregation there for 15 years, and I’ve been a pyrotech for 25 years, so I had an idea that I wanted to give back to the community which has given so much to me,” he said.
Gold said he has choreographed the display to fit in with the 900-member congregation’s tastes, including an illuminated Star of David and traditional Hebrew music played in synchroneity with the show. “No rap music allowed,” he joked.
Gold is serious about incorporating his community into the show. Before the annual show , he said, he plans to mingle with the crowd prior to the fireworks going off. During the show, he said he “gets a real kick” out of hearing the crowd murmur and shout with joy.
“I get as excited as everyone else,” he said.
Gold also incorporates his family into the show. His family is already well-known to the community, both for their work in the temple and for the television reality show Hardcore Pawn on the cable network truTV. The show features Gold, a pawnbroker by trade, who owns and operates the American Jewelry and Loan store in Detroit; and his son Seth, daughter Ashley and wife, Lili.
“Lili does crowd control during the fireworks,” Gold said. “It makes both of us feel content to be able to work in this way, for these people, with these people.”