Pyrotechnician puts stereotypes to the torch

Ms Hammadah is the first female pyrotechnician, in an industry of about 60 to 70, who can plan and fire a show in Singapore.
Ms Hammadah is the first female pyrotechnician, in an industry of about 60 to 70, who can plan and fire a show in Singapore.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

As young women of her age were dressing up for New Year's Eve parties last year, Ms Nur Hammadah Sulaiman, 24, was kneeling in the grass and wiring up explosives.

The Republic Polytechnic graduate is a pyrotechnician, one of the few women in the industry here.

And on Dec 31, while her friends enjoyed their night out, Ms Hammadah was fixing her first fireworks display for a New Year's Eve celebration on Mount Faber.

"You've to put the ignition into each tube of fireworks, then link them all electronically. You connect all of that to a module and the firing system, and waterproof everything," she said.

As the clock struck 12, Ms Hammadah hit a button and off they went, colouring the night sky for three minutes. The wows from the audience only magnified the satisfaction she felt. From selecting the music and programming the display, to applying for the permits and coordinating the set-up on New Year's Eve, she had done it all.

Her career in pyrotechnics started with a talk in 2013, just before she graduated from the Institute of Technical Education College Central with a certificate in event management. A teacher's friend spoke to her class about the use of special effects such as pyrotechnics.

"I was very interested because people will always remember the fireworks," she said. The speaker put her in touch with her current manager, Mr Derek Lam, 58, who learnt his trade working with explosives and ammunition in the army, including fireworks for the National Day Parades.

She asked him for a job. Mr Lam said: "She has a passion. So I thought, why not teach her if she's interested? She has a very good character and is willing to learn."

In 2013, Ms Hammadah started working part-time for Mr Lam. Last July, she became a full-time pyrotechnician after graduating with a diploma in event management.

Ms Hammadah said she intends to work for a few years, until her family pays off their flat, before returning to school. "My long-term plan is to be a lecturer on event management. Maybe go back to ITE and teach."

Her mother, Madam R. Suriharti, 53, a pre-school teacher, said: "She's a very good daughter and she's a good leader. She's always giving advice to the younger ones."

Her leadership qualities will stand her in good stead in an industry that Mr Lam estimates has 60 to 70 people.

She has already broken some stereotypes. Said Mr Lam, who has been in pyrotechnics for 21 years: "She's not the first woman to work on fireworks, but she's the first who can plan and fire a show in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2017, with the headline 'Pyrotechnician puts stereotypes to the torch'. Print Edition | Subscribe