Fortunato Foti blows things up – professionally. So did his father, his father’s father, his father’s father’s father, back seven generations. “Its not something you learn from TAFE, its passed down from generation to generation,” explained Fortunato. “In our family, it dates back to 1793 in Italy, and weve had three generations in Australia.” 

It follows that Fortunato is uniquely qualified to handle the enormous New Years Eve celebrations on Sydney Harbour. Since 1997, Fortunato and the Foti family have provided pyrotechnics for the show that’s world-renowned for being the very best.

For the past eight months, the team at Foti Fireworks have been preparing for December 31. It’s a gargantuan operation; about 40,000 fireworks will go off during the course of a few minutes, controlled by 13 laptop computers, sometimes firing up to 100 individual shots per second. “Theres a fair amount going off in a short amount of time,” said Fortunato, in what might be the understatement of 2014.

Planning begins in March with an initial creative meeting. “We get together as a family to talk about what special effects we can implement for the show,” said Fortunato. “We do a bit of research and development, a bit of testing. By the time it gets to the night, were pretty confident its going to work.”

Along with choreographing the show, the Fotis manufacture the fireworks between their factories in Marulan and China. “Were in the unique situation where were the manufacturer of the fireworks as well as the displayer of the fireworks,” said Fortunato. “We can have an understanding of fireworks from the ground up.”

As of December 21, Fortunato will pull out all the stops to install the show: 50 staff will spend 10 days clambering over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, wiring in fuses and testing triggers. “For New Year’s Eve there are, in total, about 14,000 cues,” said Fortunato. “So theres a fair amount of work that goes into preparing for the night.”

After 30 years in the business, Fortunato has seen a lot of changes. The quality of fireworks has changed radically, bringing new colours including lemon, orange, magenta and sky blue into the mix. New shapes, such as hearts and stars, are available. But the biggest advance has been the introduction of computers. “When I started, everything was fired by hand,” Fortunato said. “But, obviously with the computer age, were able to do a lot more, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which would be impossible to do by hand.”

And while getting New Year’s Eve off the ground – literally – is undoubtedly an enormous job, Fortunato wouldn’t have it any other way. “I still look forward to getting up in the morning and going to work,” he said. “Its obviously something thats in my blood. I still get a buzz out of it.”

This story was originally published on 30/12/14