- 1 It was at that fireworks show that I realized one day, I too would work for the family business
- 2 6 months later, my father and cousin Donna were killed when our Long Island factory caught fire
- 3 In addition to events like the Olympics and Presidential Inaugurations, we break world records
- 4 Today, I’m the fifth generation working in our family business
- 5 In a typical year, we produce about 250 shows. Because of COVID-19, that number dropped to 39 in 2020.
- 6 We’re constantly training new pyrotechnicians
- 7 This year, I’m staying local for Independence Day
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Phil Grucci, the CEO and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci. It has been edited for length and clarity.
As a kid in New York, there was nothing I loved more than hopping inside the family truck, sitting in between my father and uncle, and heading to one of the fireworks shows my family would produce.
My grandfather, Felix Grucci Sr., produced a show at Coney Island every Tuesday and one each Wednesday at Rye Playland. Going out on the barge and watching everyone prepare for the show was just about the coolest thing a boy my age could ask for.
Once, when I was 7 years old, my dad allowed me to tie two firework fuses together in a knot, and then just like my grandfather taught us, my father then handed me a pair of scissors to cut off the excess string, signifying the last step in the process before lighting.
All it took was one cut of that string, and a feeling of exhilaration came over me that I’d never experienced before. Suddenly, I felt like a hero.
It was at that fireworks show that I realized one day, I too would work for the family business
These days, my family is known as “America’s First Family of Fireworks.”
Back when I was a kid, I’d watch in awe after the fireworks shows as the commissioners and crowds of people came over to my grandfather to pat him on the back and give him all sorts of accolades. Seeing this only confirmed my strong desire to join the business.
In 1981, I attended college at CW Post in Long Island to study finance. The following year at the age of 20, I expected to spend the summer working at our factory.
But then my dad asked me if I wanted to spend three months in Knoxville, Tennessee, working for the World’s Fair. When I asked him who was running the crew, he said: “You are.”
He told me to gather my friends who’d gone through our training to join us. We spent three months doing a fireworks show every night, without missing a beat. That experience helped build my confidence, allowing me to take on bigger and better performances.
The following May, I worked at the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge celebration. It was also on my birthday, which was a major highlight for me. Things were going well.
6 months later, my father and cousin Donna were killed when our Long Island factory caught fire
It was the worst day of my life, and my whole family was devastated. Not only had we just lost two members of our tight-knit family, but our factory was also leveled, and we’d lost everything.
Shortly after, our family gathered around my grandmother’s table to decide whether we should remain in business. My grandmother was understandably hesitant after losing her son, but as a family, we unanimously decided to forge ahead.
Rather than scare me off, losing my father only strengthened my desire to remain in the industry. I knew how passionate he was about our business and the art form, and I wanted to continue that legacy for his sake.
In addition to events like the Olympics and Presidential Inaugurations, we break world records
I wake up every morning and love going to work. What’s not to love? Every occasion we’re called to work on is a happy one.
To date, we’ve done eight US Presidential Inaugurations and the Olympics in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. In 2008, I was commissioned as the lead designer and engineer for all the fireworks for the Olympics in Beijing, which was a huge honor for me.
We’ve also held 11 unique Guinness Book world records, including the world’s largest fireworks display for shooting a little less than a million shells in less than 10 minutes in Dubai. The show required 250 pyrotechnicians to install the job over a month’s time period.
The record that means the most to me though is for the largest single aerial shell. My father broke that record with my aunt and uncle in 1979, but it was later beaten by someone in Japan. Then, six years ago, a client in the Middle East commissioned us to break the record again.
Today, I’m the fifth generation working in our family business
We employ just under 200 people full-time between our New York design studio, a small factory located in Upstate New York, and a much larger one in Virginia, where we lease 400 acres on an active army ammunition plant.
In 1995, after reading up on military contracts over $25,000, I came across one that mentioned pyrotechnics. I explored the opportunity and wound up bidding and winning the contract to develop training devices for the military, such as simulated hand grenades and ground bombs.
Since we work with the military, our Virginia factory was deemed an essential business during COVID-19 and we were able to keep the business up and running. We even relocated our New York factory employees to Virginia in an effort to keep them employed.
Right now, approximately half of our revenue is the result of our military work, but that figure can fluctuate from year to year depending on the types of events we do.
While the Department of Defense’s work is consistent, our event work can waver from year to year.
In a typical year, we produce about 250 shows. Because of COVID-19, that number dropped to 39 in 2020.
With the help of 400 pyrotechnicians, we’ll produce just under 70 fireworks shows from New York to Hawaii over the next four days.
While these crew members are exclusive to Grucci and undergo the same rigorous in-house training our full-time pyrotechnicians do, they only work for us part-time and as needed.
During the year, they work a variety of jobs — dentists, accountants, mechanics, car dealers, police officers, schoolteachers, you name it. They often take a week of their vacation time to work for us, heading anywhere from Vegas or Hawaii to Dubai or Saudi Arabia.
These people are an extension of the Grucci family. Some of them are high school and college buddies. My own high school science teacher was even on a crew for a while. Our CFO, Scott Raso, happens to be my old college roommate.
We’re constantly training new pyrotechnicians
Just last month, we trained 55 people in our in-house training seminar.
At some point, people age out. After all, it’s an intense job with long hours and a lot of manual labor involved. However, it really is a family affair. Pyros often get their own kids engaged, so we wind up training the next generation.
This year, I’m staying local for Independence Day
My daughter recently had a baby boy, and I plan on taking my grandson to experience his first fireworks show. Once the smoke settles after the Fourth of July, my own family has lots of celebrating to do.
My grandson turns one in August, and my son — who’s a quality engineer in our Virginia factory — is getting married in September. Neither event would be a party without fireworks!