Light Up Your Life | Meet Burl Finkelstein
POSTED ON NOVEMBER 27, 2015
Job Title: VP of Operations and General Counsel at Kason Industries by day, and Pyrotecnico Pyrotechnician by night
Hometown: Newnan, Georgia
Years at Pyrotecnico: 10
Pyrotecnico Event Portfolio: TomorrowWorld, Alabama State University, University of West Georgia, World Harvey Church, Wings Over North Georgia, Free Chapel, Atlanta Symphony, and countless July 4th and New Year’s Eve displays spanning Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee
What sparked your interest in the pyrotechnics industry? It is funny that in my family I have become a professional pyrotechnician, because as children my brother was the pyromaniac and I was not. Now as old guys, things have reversed. I got into pyrotechnics indirectly. One of my big hobbies was high power rocketry, which was largely put on hold when I went to law school (I went as an adult while keeping my VP of Engineering job).
When I finished law school I had all kinds of time on my hands and was looking to get back to rocketry. Rocketry let me use problem solving, materials and structural engineering, electronics and pyrotechnic chemistry in one endeavor, I soon found another outlet. One night of internet surfing for electric matches and black powder to make parachute deployment charges I came across a webpage for Pyrotecnico. The page offered free shooters training and display fireworks live fire at the end of the class. I had just sat thru years of classes so what was one day of class ending in explosions! I sent an email to Pyrotecnico asking to attend. About a week later my wife received a call that the classes for the year were over but they were doing a show near me that weekend. My wonderful wife then asked if Burl could come to watch, the answer was Yes! I was at the site in the morning waiting for the truck. It pulled in we introduced other and I went to work with them. As they took things off the truck they told me what they were, I replied back how it worked and what it was made of. The rest is history I worked as a helper that year on several shows and became a crew leader the next year.
Describe your jobs duties? My real job is very interesting it involves all the aspects of designing and manufacturing specialty components for food service equipment. As a company that has been in business since 1926 there were a lot old ways of doing things that we did not have a good reason for. Over the past 6 years since I moved from VP of Engineering to Operations I had had a chance to modernize the companies methods and processes to assure it thrives another 85 years. I get a chance to work many things from clean legal work to helping start up new tooling in a 800 ton press in our die casting foundry, what ever needs to be done at any level. My job is basically figuring out the best ways to do things and planning out how to orchestrate a way to get there, then leading our staff in getting the job done and giving them ownership of the process.
As a pyrotechnician I deal with different levels abstraction than I do at work but the job is still understanding what needs to be done, figuring out the best way to do it and instructing people to make it come together. In the end the show has to work, be safe, entertain and give the sponsor what they expected, or more.
Walk us through a typical on-site display day. A show plan starts with putting a crew together of people I can trust and who don’t mind the sometimes hard physical demands of setting up a show. Next planning how much time we will need to get to the site and set up the show, how and where to pick up the truck and how long the trip will be. Before I leave I do a layout of the show and make a sketch of all positions so the crew has a plan the minute they get on site. Calls need to be made in advance to the sponsors to arrange meeting times and places. There may need to be calls to fire marshals or other authorities to review details.
At the site we try to plan a route to minimize the number of moves of the equipment from the truck to the final location. I try to divide the job to give all crew members something to do and not be waiting for me. Sites can range from being right off the back of the truck to on a roof top, a barge or out on an island so logistics sometimes must be thought out. When equipment is on location we assemble the racks or other equipment making certain it is stable and safe, then layout the fireworks for it. On large electrically fired shows the most time spent can be loading the fireworks and wiring the igniters to the firing modules. This can be a full day of work and it requires precision to keep shell order so the show fires as designed.
Weather is always an issue at outdoor shows, extreme heat, cold, winds, fog, or rain complicate the set up and production of the show. It also complicates what clothes the crew needs and if there are panics to cover exposed fireworks when rain starts. When the fireworks and equipment set up is completed cables are run to a firing panel that may be manual switches or a computer, circuits are checked and corrections made as needed.
When everything is ready we take 5 and relax until the queue from the sponsor comes to shoot the show. Right before the show my mind runs thru everything we did to make certain it is right. While the show fires I am in my Zen happy place and watch it run.
What is your favorite type of event to shoot a display? My overall favorite is doing large shows and to make them all come together. The New Years show in Mobile has a barge and a roof top with coordinated firing. Wings Over North Georgia is also one of my favorites – I got to shoot a wall of pyro alongside the runway, while a jet car sped down it going 400 MPH! However, I still enjoy drop and shoot aerial shows and small indoor stage pyro. There is something to be said for one day gigs.
What is your favorite type of firework/pyrotechnic? Of aerial fireworks my favorites are Crosettes, particularly color changing. Almost any close prox stuff shot indoors is awesome to do also.
What do you enjoy most about working with Pyrotecnico? I enjoy working with Pyrotecnico because the company is involved in such a wide and wonderful variety of special effects, fireworks and pyro. Working with them has given me opportunities to works with other professionals and handles many types of effects in many different venues. I have got to climb into the rigging at big arenas and be part of the production crew at major venue events because of working with Pyrotecnico. I only wish I got into when I was younger.
The best part of doing pyro is the excitement of the spectators and applause you receive for the show. Not many people get the opportunity to enjoy receiving applause for blowing up explosives and creating performance art in the process.
Pyro has even given me a chance to be an inventor. Setting up hundreds of mortar racks for a large and nailing them together is a big job. Pulling all the nail after the show is a lot of work usually done late at night. I have been able to modify nail guns to use duplex nails to speed the nail up of the racks. I have also invented and built “Nail Boys” nail pullers to ease and speed the take down of the show. These tools are invaluable when doing several back to back large aerial shows during the 4th of July holiday. Sometimes I play Tom Sawyer with the Nail Boy and tell the crew “I’ll pull all the nails in this show”.