Summertime in Sacramento means fireworks at the River Cats, celebrations, and of course, a brightly lit Fourth of July. We recently caught up with Nancy Gilfillan, daughter of the late Founder Robert Souza at Pyro Spectaculars , Inc. to learn more about how they make this all happen, and what it takes to remain at the top of the industry in this market.
Q . So tell us, have you always enjoyed playing with fire?

A. To be honest, by nature I’m a really big chicken! I never fantasized about playing with fire and from an early age I was taught to respect it. My father taught us the importance of keeping a safe distance and to always have the water bucket and a hose nearby.

Q. What was your very first job, and how did it go?

A. I wasn’t groomed to be in the business full time, and I have been a Registered Nurse for 41 years. I’m grateful to have my nursing career as to well as share some time in our family business working on special projects, taking on the role of providing support to my husband and family members. My father provided us with early exposure to the business and allowed us to do many tasks. In the late 1960’s early ‘70’s the business included consumer and display fireworks. I have memories of working on an assembly line putting together firework packets, answering phones, cleaning the office, building set pieces and most fun of all, working in firework stands.

Since then my role has shifted. For the past 20 years I’ve been responsible for coordination of crew for the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks show in New York City and I work hand-in-hand with my brother, Gary Souza. We have 50 crew members from all over the country working so I handle the travel accommodations and day to day comfort needs for our crew during the two week set-up.  Even though I hold a license to handle firework materials, I spend most of my talents behind the scenes.

Q. What’s the biggest misconception people have about pyrotechnics?

A. People often say: “oh you only work one day out of the year!” but that’s absolutely not true. It’s a year round business; there is very little downtime. Our busiest seasons are the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve but we do provide fireworks for many celebrations throughout the state year-round. Some of our displays can be seen at events from high school homecoming shows, weddings, major and minor league baseball games and several Olympic Games. We are also active with the American Pyrotechnic Association and attend two major conferences each year.

Q. How long does it take to set up a show?

A. Our smallest show, one that will last for just five minutes like at a Homecoming, takes an afternoon to set up. Our Macy’s show, which goes for 30 minutes, takes 14 days to set up following a year of planning. This year the Macy’s Fourth of July show will be set up on five barges in the East River, and it’s life telecast so it has a little more pressure than usual.

Q.  Your Dad left a real legacy for you and your siblings; what core values did he lead with as a you learned from him?

A.  My father was able to teach us about integrity, community and what it means to have a good work ethic.  He grew his business through quality work, reputation, and by always exceeding expectations. The company grew exponentially over the years as a result, and he remained a true leader who always had his hands and heart on the business and kept his family and employees closely involved.

Q. You’ve been in business here for many years now; what do you think it is about your Family Business that keeps people coming back every year?

A. As owners, my two brothers and our spouses have shared family values that include respect, integrity and honesty. We have 60 employees and many operators and crew that work as independent contractors. We treat our employees like family and that culture that results in low turnover. As far as customers, we have a long history of safety and dedication to providing a good product. When we do this well, our customers return. I am proud to be a part of the team that makes people ooh, ah, and smile.