Fire Safety: A Conversation About Poor Life Choices and Running from the Law

Fire Safety

Valentine's day is here and with a hot night ahead of you it's that time again. Time to have a talk about the facts of life; about where babies come from, the rules of consensual three person dragon staff, and about the importance of using protection. Yes you may think you're too cool,  but it's important to remember that no matter how hot and bothered you are, setting your audience members on fire as a sacrifice to Cthulhu is a bad idea. (Please note SpinTalk does not actually endorse setting others on fire for fun, profit, or as part of a ritual to the Elder gods). Yes, much like dodging the IRS and laundry day, it is only a matter of time before we are found out and forced to face the music. So let's get down to business.

To keep with tradition, I want to share with you real experiences, and mistakes, from my life and advocate strongly that you learn from them. So with that, here’s a brief tidbit on my history with fire safety:

When I first got into entertainment, I worked with a fairly motley group of performers (jugglers, magicians, statues, and the like) who were incredibly old school. These were guys who began their careers somewhere between the late seventies to mid eighties, when insurance was known as practice and your relationship with the fire department was based on how fast you could run. To say there were things in those shows that would have made a fire marshal cringe would be an understatement, but no matter how dangerous the feat each show ended with thunderous applause from the audience members who still had all their fingers and toes. Now I want to be upfront, I do not in anyway condone this kind of performance, but the point I would like to make is that these guys were pros. They knew exactly how to create the illusion of danger without going overboard—their livelihood depended on it.

The problem is that these entertainers represent a dying breed of fire performers around the world. What was acceptable thirty years ago is now becoming increasingly difficult to pitch to venue owners, festival organizers and city officials. While comically spraying fuel around your circle show was funny back in the day, (yes this did actually happen) now it doesn’t have the same comedic punch. In a world where the only thing that outnumbers lawsuits is stupid cat videos on tumblr, fire performers are under increasing pressure to provide documentation proving that they have a safe and accredited act.

Now fire and safety haven’t exactly had the best relationship historically, (Prometheus set the bar pretty high running down Mount Olympus with a flaming stick) but this is improving. Every year there are more resources being developed to help fire performers maintain a quality standard and book more gigs in the process:

(No safety bro? Come on!)

1. The NFPA 160 

The NFPA 160 is a document published by the The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) containing information about the Standard for the Use of Flame Effects Before an Audience.  This is literally the Holy Bible of all fire performance. The NFPA uses this document to regulate “flame effects before an audience.” Since there is no formal classification for fire performers, this is as close as it gets. As far as fire marshals are concerned, this is what they will be using to determine whether or not the safety of your performance is up to snuff. This resource is available for free on the NFPA’s website if you sign up, otherwise it can be ordered for an additional charge. Note: The NFPA 160 updates each year and it is recommended that you have most current copy.


I cannot say enough good things about The North American Fire Arts Association (NAFFA). I really can’t. NAFAA is probably one of the biggest assets available to fire performers. In a nutshell what NAFAA has done is created a set of fire performer specific safety guidelines (including prop safety) in conjunction with the NFPA. This is a fantastic document because it cuts through a lot of the muck that bogs down the NFPA 160 (namely things that don’t apply to fire performers) and gets right down to exactly the kinds of things we do. Furthermore, many cities have already accepted and adapted the NAFAA guidelines and use them to regulate fire performance. In addition the NAFAA wiki has tons of other useful information about fuel selection, international fuel names, best equipment practices, fire myths, and much more. This is definitely worth skimming through while you watch reruns of Gossip Girl.

3. FAI fire safety program

Who doesn’t love Flow Arts Institute (FAI)? I mean really. They stand for truth, justice, and all the poi you can spin! In all honesty, FAI has done some incredibly high caliber work to bring attention to the flow arts, and their fire safety program is no exception to this standard. Comprised of eleven videos, this is an extremely extensive look at fire safety and takes you through everything you need to know from proper fuel storage and fire extinguisher upkeep, to fuel dump management and safety personnel. The best part? All the videos are free! The only cost is for the course itself, which rings in at an agreeable 15 dollars, well worth the investment. If you pass all the tests in the course FAI will give you a certificate saying you are fire safety certified through their program and this will also qualify you for the FDNY fire  performer licensing program (which we will talk about next). The whole course from start to finish takes about 13 hours, depending on how good of a note taker you are.

4. FDNY Fire Performer Licensing Program

Last but not least, let’s talk about the coolest thing to ever happen to fire performance. Ever. Seriously. This program is going to make you feel like a badass, fire-wielding superhero. Essentially what this program does is it create a formal licensing program for fire performers. It was developed by the amazing Tara McManus in conjunction with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) as a way to regulate fire performance in New York City. After some intense study and some prerequisites (the FAI fire safety course or the one offered by Tara at The Floasis) you can take a test and receive an actual photo ID (the E-29) that says you are qualified to handle fire. It’s like a driver’s license for playing with fire. If that wasn’t cool enough there is a second license (the E-28) that qualifies you to oversee entire fire productions. Sadly, there are only about four people who have obtained this licence, so this is  roughly the equivalent of becoming fire arts Yoda. Although the flow may be strong in you, it will take many years of training (and lots of paperwork) to obtain the title of fire arts master. There’s a lot more I could go into, but I think Tara does a better job explaining it. 

You may be asking yourself “if these licenses are only good in New York City why should they be important to me?”. This is an excellent question and something that is talked about in the video. Essentially it boils down to this: The FDNY is one of the largest fire departments in the world, and this exam represents one of the most rigorous fire safety training programs in the country. Any fire official worth their salt will know this, and as such having your E-29 will get you a lot of street cred and go a long way towards assuring the fire department that you know your stuff.

So there you have it. Four great resources to help up your fire safety game and get the gigs you deserve. Additionally, in an effort to promote fire performance and increase jobs for fire performers who live and work in Philly, SpinCo has introduced a new initiative for 2017 called Open Flame in Closed Spaces.  The goal is to educate facility managers and property owners about indoor performance fire acts.  Stay tuned for updates!  Over and out. *Mic Drop*

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