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The TV show Pyros follows an elite team of pyrotechnicians around the world. Courtesy The Discovery Channel
The TV show Pyros follows an elite team of pyrotechnicians around the world. Courtesy The Discovery Channel

The life of a pyro

The TV show Pyros is a behind-the-scenes look at the mad-hatter dynamos that create the world's most dazzling fireworks displays.

Death by static cling rings comical, but for the pyros who light up night skies with a maelstrom of fireworks to make our holidays festive, even a tiny electrostatic spark from a trouser leg or shirtsleeve could prove lethal.

This new Discovery series points our eyes at the skies as it jets us around the globe with Montreal's gunpowder gang, Groupe Fiatlux-Ampleman (GFA), an elite team of pyrotechnicians for whom blowing things up is simply an everyday part of life.

"Viewers will get a view into the crazy world of pyrotechnics and the trials and tribulations of GFA as they try to execute some of the biggest fireworks shows in the world," says the series producer David Gullason, who filmed 40 shows in 22 different countries over a year.

Even putting cameramen amid the black-powder mortars on the launch pad was both daunting and dangerous, adds Gullason. "But it was worth it. These pyrotechs work long, hard days to pull off 15 minutes of armageddon."

"It's about us crazy people working with fireworks," says Maude Furtado, the general manager of GFA, who craves "the rush of adrenalin".

"It's definitely lots of fun. You never see the same show twice. Even the designer, when he composes and creates a show, there's no way for him to do a rehearsal. That would be way too expensive and very complicated. So every show is a first."

With a fortune on the line and hundreds of thousands of people to please, she knows her team has no margin for error. Slip-ups can be more than costly - they can be downright deadly.

The mad-hatter personalities of her crew are nearly as explosive as their airborne alchemy of art and science. Furtado proves she's one tough cookie to preside over the antics of the adrenalin-junkie techs Philippe Girard and Sebastien Roy, the renegade designers Eric Cardinal and Benoît Berthelet, and a troupe of ragtag rookies.

Her love of fireworks was passed down by her father, a Quebecer who created eye candy for Montreal's La Ronde amusement park for decades.

"In the beginning, I was kind of scared and not too sure," says Furtado. "I was quite young and my father was dealing with explosives. I wasn't sure if I liked this. But then he started bringing me on cool trips to Europe, to Spain and Italy, and I started to like fireworks a little bit."

Her heart's desire is to see GFA shine on the world stage, to become the best pyro company - full stop. Over eight one-hour episodes, Pyros will see GFA - which puts on more than 200 shows a year - set fire to the sky in exotic locales such as Rio, Valencia, Berlin and Seoul.

In the premiere episode, GFA is hired to put on a show at the world's largest winter festival, Carnaval, in Quebec City. But minutes before the show starts, the head pyrotech Girard struggles to even light the warning shell. Later, in the festival's closing parade, GFA tours a custom float that spits fire and launches fireworks. The show, however, is finally scuppered by high winds. Meanwhile, Girard and Roy head to Spain to learn from the "best of the best" during the famed Las Fallas Festival.

As one might expect, overseas the playing field is rarely level; it's rife with crooked competitors. The work is never easy: technical glitches pop up like whack-a-moles on the midway. And the searing competition - and rivalries - are volcanic.

Hardly a get-rich-quick business, pyrotechnics also demand exhausting hours. Part scientist and part pyromaniac, however, the firebug souls on Furtado's crew shine even brighter than their handiwork when it comes to the most essential element to success - their passion.

Pyros is broadcast at 7.50pm every Tuesday on Discovery HD Showcase.

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