Fire Dancing - Safety Manual
- 1 About
- 2 Fire Science
- 3 The Performing Process (Recommendations)
- 4 The Performance Area
- 5 Fabric and Clothing
- 6 Designated Safety Spotter
- 7 Fire Suppression
- 8 Performance Checklists
- 9 Fire Urgencies and Emergencies
- 10 Fire Safety Personnel Training
- 11 See Also
- 12 Links
Fire spinning is inherently dangerous. Reading this article is no substitute for real training, and we highly recommend an in-person fire safety training such as the one by FlowArtsInstitute.com.
Fire is a chemical reaction which requires three components:
In practical terms, the best way to put out fire props is usually smothering the fire to starve it of oxygen. Fire wicks can reach very high temperatures, which is transferred to the surrounding metal.You can quickly touch a wick or waver your hand over flame without getting burnt - hence one of the most known ways to stay safe is to always stay moving. Most burns happen when you touch the metal or stay still.
Most fire spinners use white gas (also known as "camp fuel" or b>Naptha), which forms a vapor and is a Class 1B Flammable Solvent (it can ignite at room temperature potentially). Popular brands are Coleman, Ozark Trail & Crown, and most often bough in a gallon can for ~$18 at any hardware store. If you are using less common fuels (such as: paraffin, kerosene or alcohol fuels) please read up, they all have different flash points and other properties.
Fuel Containers and Fuel Depot
Store your fuel cans in cool places, preferably locked away with warning stickers. When you bring cans to fire spinning, keep them near the dipping station in a safety area well away (at least 20 feet) from the fire circle. Always close the lid.
Dipping Can and Secondary Container
For the dipping container, fire spinners often use a (steel plated) one gallon empty paint can but an ammo can is also popular. Both are pretty decent for dipping wicks, although an advantage of the paint can is that you can quickly throw the lid on top to extinguish a flame in an emergency.
Either way, the important parts:
- Always close the lid after dipping - if the can is open a stray ember or flame could mean disaster.
- Always use a secondary container - this should be a large metal tray that catches any spills.
Dipping Station, Safety Area
In the dark, people can easily trip over the dipping can so in practice you should keep the area illuminated (with a safe LED light) and clear of anyone who isn't dipping. Make sure your illumination is something like a LED lamp which doesn't generate much heat or electricity, and keep it near enough to your fuel can that people can see what they are doing as they dip and close the lid. Another amazing idea is to create a safety perimeter with a string of LED rope lights with a 20 feet perimeter. You want all fire performers to be told to keep outside of this area unless they are actually dipping.
A venue layout diagram is a good idea.
The Performing Process (Recommendations)
- Fully immerse wicks for 1-2 seconds in fuel.
- Keep handles and chains of prop away from fuel.
- Dip excess fuel back into the container for a few seconds.
- Close the lid.
- Leave the dipping area to spin-off excess fuel into a bag or spin-off area.
After dipping you should always immediately leave the safety area and spin off excess fuel (yes it's a liquid) else it will spill off while it's on fire - potentially on you or another performer. Spinning off should be done away from the dipping station and fire circle, and some groups build special environmentally friendly spin off structures to spin off without getting the fuel on the ground. Others can use zip lock bags around each wick, with the advantage that you catch excess fuel to return to the dipping container.
If you don't have a special structure or ziplocks, at least have a designated spin off area (away from all people and fire), and the act of spinning off is to simply spin your prop quickly for a few seconds such the that centrifuge force will make the fuel will fly away from you - and not towards you onto your clothes! Try to minimize the fuel you get on the ground
There is a great video with detail on spinning off and fuel safety here: https://youtu.be/TqmEgbPA5Qg
Just before lighting up you should see who's performing and look around the space for hazards (both tripping and overhead hazards).... but most importantly, notice if there is any wind.
You should always light up on the far side of the fire circle - well away from the fuel. Some people use a cigarette lighter to light up, but that's for experienced users only. A really great option is any device that can stay lit, like a lamp or tiki torch, and keep that well away from the fuel.
Extinguishing the Fire and Exiting
Always make sure your flame is out and you exit away from the fuel. A good safety map will have you exit away from the safety zone and return your prop somewhere safe (since it's still hot, and you should wait ten minutes before you think about dipping again).
In casual situation, many performers wait until the flame is low and then blow out or swing out the flame, and then exit. People often applaud when you swing, out, so you might even take a bow before exiting. In performance situations however, your flame is probably still too strong to blow or swing out, so instead you'll need a fire retardant blanket (sometimes called "duvetyne" because that's the most common type of fabric) and a designated safety spotter to help you put out the flame.
Each different prop has different method to extinguish, so you should watch some videos on how to extinguish each prop you use. The safety spotter is the one responsible for safety extinguishing your flame, and although each prop has a different method, some comminatlities are:
- Always keep your head away from the flame.
- Make sure the wick is placed on the center of the blanket.
- If not placed adequately, the fire safety should always tell you to back off, and place your prop again.
- Each motion/fold of the blanket (which takes practice) should be fluid and skim over the wick so as not to billow oxygen onto the flame.
- Be very away of the properties of fire, and the direction that fire will billow out with each fold.
- Ideally the safety should wear good gloves, but after the face, protecting everyones fingers is priority.
- Once the wick is totally wrapped (totally smothered), you should choked the neck and count to five to make sure the fire is completely out.
Here's a picture of how to extinguish a staff, but remember each prop is different, so please watch this entire video and more if your prop is not covered.
The Performance Area
Just like the fire safety area, the performance area (usually either a "stage" or designated "fire circle") should be roped off in some way so that non-spinners don't just wander inside. A circle of solar powered lights, or even a long, but highly visible rope will help form this perimeter for people. Make sure the fire circle is large enough that the audience are 20 feet from the fire. Depending on the size of the circle you might want to enforce a maximum number of performers... keeping in mind that a dynamic prop like a rope dart requires much more space. You should never throw static props near the edge of the fire.
Good spatial awareness of your fellow spinners is key here. Also, if you set the ground on fire at all, please stamp it out immediately. The safety spotter should yell it out.
Fabric and Clothing
TLDR: Fairly snug fitting denim or pure cotton clothes work best. Avoid synthetics (very bad). Tie up and wet long hair. Covering your arms and legs can protect against burns so is a good idea for non-professional spinners.
Figure content, fabric weight and weave and fit and finish is all important to consider with clothing. Fact is everything burns at some temperature, but some materials are more fire resistant.
- Natural fibers (cotton, wool, etc) are good - they don't catch fire easily and don't melt.
- Synthetics (polyester, etc) are bad - they burn more easily, they melt (onto your skin) and they hold static electricity.
- Aramid fibers (kevlar, etc) are great, but still and hard to come by.
Many clothes are a mix (80/20 cotton & polyester) in a common t-shirt, so have properties of both.
Fabric Weight and Weave
Heavier, tighter weaves are more protective as they keep oxygen out. Denim or pure cotton are best. If you hold it up to the light and see through it easily, then it might not be a good choice.
Fit and Finish
- Snug fitting prevents oxygen buildup and make spinning easier.
- Sleeves & pants not too long or floppy.
- Avoid dangling or fuzzy clothes - can catch fire easily, or tangle your prop.
Fire-retardant sprays can help a little, but if you get fuel on you, it will still burn.
Wet Your Hair
One thing that always helps against fire is water. Nobody wants to drench their clothes in water before spinning (obviously), but if you have long hair you are encouraged to do a hair tie, wear a hat or wet your hair before you spin each time. A good fire crew will keep a big spray bottle of water for anyone to quickly dampen their hair.
Footwear and Accessories
Some people dance barefoot, but closed shoes can be good to stamp out fire. Certain accessories like jewelry might be a hazard as they might catch your prop.
Designated Safety Spotter
The best fire troops have a designated safety spotter at all times. Their job is to call out anything dangerous, and be close to the emergency equipment (blankets) to run in if needed.
The safety spotter may also help you extinguisher in a controlled way. A good fire spotter will also have fire-retardant gloves at the ready.
Fire suppression is all about an emergency, this is different from extinguishing a prop in a controlled way.
Every fire troop should have one or two blanket on hand, positioned beside the fire circle and near any safety spotter. If someone catches on fire, you should yell out where they are on fire, then give them a second or two to pat it out themselves, but if that fails (or if the fire looks out of control), you should whip out that clothes rated fire safety blanket and run up... cover the area from the top and then pat down. Get them to stop drop and roll and cover them on the group (smoother them) if necessary.
Extinguishers should be considered: (a) a last resort, (b) single use only, and (c) only used by certified professions. If someone is on fire, use a blanket because the extinguisher can do more harm than good. Every fire troop is recommended to own a (non-expired) extinguisher, but know that it is is a last result.
Two types of extinguishers:
- A-B-C extinguishers: Dry chemical. Not always good for a liquid fire, as it will spread it out. Don't use on people.
- B-C extinguishers: Usually baking soda. Use on people as an absolute last resort.
Extinguisher use is "PASS":
- P - Pull. (pull the pin out COMPLETELY)
- A - Aim. (aim at the BASE of the fire)
- S - Squeeze. (squeeze the trigger)
- S - Sweep. (sweep back and forward)
Before lighting up ask yourself:
- Personal inspection:
- Are you sober and alert? (alcohol & drugs have no place here)
- Are you physically okay? (stretched / injuries / hungry fire)
- Clothing inspection:
- Are you dressed appropriately? (no catching risks)
- Hair inspection
- Should you wet or tie your hair?
- Tool inspection:
- Is your prop ready? (screwed in tight / wick trimmed)
- Other performer inspection:
- Have you talked to the safety & know who else is performing.
- Environment inspection:
- Do you know the venue layout / safety map? (where is the nearest safety equipment)
- What are the environment risks? (trip hazard, overhead trees)
- What is the wind situation? (light up from upwind)
Just-After Ignition Checklist
Most accidents happen just after you light, when the fuel burns hottest. Be aware of:
- Excess fuel - you very likely have too much fuel, so try spin slowly at first and use less next time.
- Excess adrenalin - fuel can make you excited & spin beyond your skill level, take deep breathes and go your own speed.
- Your space and audience - just after you've ignited, look around the audience and fire circle for one last check of who's around and obstacles you might not have noticed.
Fire Urgencies and Emergencies
When You Catch Fire
When you cat fire, you might suddenly be gripped by fear of pain. Often it's just very small area, someone will yell "leg" and you can quickly pat it out with your hand and it will barely break your performance. Other times you might could tangled in a dynamic prop, and suddenly you are adding the sensation of burning flesh... but even it's critical you try not to panic, and NEVER just run, that will just whoosh more oxygen on the flame. The short answer of what to do... call for help and stand still so a fire safety can come help you and/or stop drop and roll.
In more detail:
Extinguishing without Help!
- Little fire:
- Stop spinning your prop - hold it away or drop it.
- Look for fire and try to self-extinguish by patting it down with your hand (don't count on it burning out by itself).
- Bigger fire:
- Shout for help.
- Stop. Drop. Roll. (larger fire)
- Last resort: fire-retardant fabric or (absolute last result) fire extinguisher.
Extinguishing with Help.
- Safety personal shouts fire location: "Andrew, leg"
- Yell for help
- Stand still. Arms to sides and feet apart.
- Stay still. Follow safety's instructions.
Post Burn Care
If you got burned, you should always stop performing and address the wound. For minor burns. Running cold water can help. Don't rupture any blisters, and wrap the area in sterile dressing. If you do have ruptured blisters, clean with disinfectant and wrap. You can buy pain control pills and burn creams over the counter. Now you have to really talk about how to avoid this in the future.
Dynamic props, like poi, can often tangle. If you can't untangle yourself you can call out to the safety and if they are wearing gloves they can help you untangle, or you might decide to extinguish.
If a prop flies off towards the audience, alert safety (in case they missed it) and all fire spinners should call to action to recover it safely without carrying more lit props into the audience.
If your props burn out.. so be it, but if you want to extinguish early:
- Stop manipulating your prop.
- Move slowly towards Fire Safety Personnel and ask them to extinguish your prop.
- Lay your prop on the center of the cloth.
- Slowly remove your prop only when okayed by your safety.
- Take your props and move to exit.
After Burn Considerations
You should wait for your prop to burn out before you re-dip the same prop - the heat *could* cause combustion! You probably want to take a break, but I you really want/need to go again, use a different (cool) prop. A good amount of time to wait is 5 minutes.
Fire Safety Personnel Training
This section is to help fire training personal - the people who are tasked at keeping the performers, venue and audience safe during a performance. They can also sometimes called "fire watch", "safety spotters" or just "safety".
Fire performance are inherently dangerous. Even with knowledge, skill, practice and certification, you can only reduce risk, if you play with fire there is always a chance of getting burned.
Financial, Legal and Ethical Considerations
In a country like the US, there's always a risk of litigation or getting sued. Serious safety officers should consider getting "fire performer insurance" which covers both bodily injury and property damage.
Duties of the Job
Depending on the situation, one person might cover all duties, or duties can be split for each station.
- Fuel Depot Manager - Should monitor fuel and spin off precedes - making sure it's done responsibly and safe from any ignition.
- Stage Front Manager - Usually just in front of the stage between the performers and audience.
- Extinguishing Manager - Usually off to the side, ready to put out any prop when needed.
- Roaming Manager - Additional eyes and ears to look for danger.
- Venue Safety - Assess the safety of the venue beforehand. Ask about ventilation, fire exits, additional fire extinguishers (in date), best location to fuel and spin off, insurance policy, obstacles, emergency plan, fire performer flow, etc.
- Crowd Control - At smaller venues, you may have to help prevent any audience wandering into the circle or interact with performers.
- Scene Safety - Make sure all props are out and kept away as tripping hazards.
- Professional Liaison - In some situations you might be called upon to interface with the law or government people.
Characteristics of Effective Fire Safety Personnel
- Communication - Pre performance, you should communication to performers, the rules, setup of fuel depot and spin off etc. During the performance, you have to communicate with performer, stray audience and other safety, especially when you go on break.
- Vigilance - There is no mastery of fire, only management of fire. I you get distracted, you need to get someone else to take over. There's no room for mind altering drugs or alcohol.
- Audacity, but not fearlessness - Quick thinking and guts are required. Don't listen to people saying "safety third", keep a healthy respect and fear of fire.
- Remaining calm & rational - Instead of getting excited with adrenalin in the heat of the moment, you need to take one or two seconds to gather your wits before you rush in to help.
- Self - think of yourself first.
- Audience - they are the people who can sue you!
- Venue - if the venue catches on fire, you might consider that fire extinguisher.
- Entertainer - we put this last, because they typically can take care of themselves.
Tools & Equipment
The safety should consider dressing more safely than a performer. Long sleeve, pants and protective footwear.
Also you should have a sufficient sized cloth and fire retardant gloves and glasses.
Fire Extinguishing Theory
- Duvetyne - When used correctly, it removes oxygen, just like snuffing a candle with a glass.
- Damp Cloth - As above, but can also cool down the prop with the water.
- Fire Extinguisher' - an ABC rated powder extinguisher primarily interrupts the reaction and covers the fuel source.... a BC rated carbon dioxide extinguisher displaces oxygen and lowers the heat.
Don't forget to wait a 5 seconds after smoothing each wick to prevent a flare up (for the oxygen to used up).
What NOT to do:
- Face over prop
- Hasty unwrapping
- Fanning the flames - (with the wrong action of wrapping)
- Loose or incomplete roll - (not fully smoothered)
- Not remaining calm
Last resort... you can use a small steel bin to extinguish anything, but often just letting it burn out is the safest way.
Using Cloth and Extinguishers for Abatement
- Fire extinguisher - NOT for people or props (they have chemicals bad for the lungs and can even asphyxiate), but can be useful for out of control fire depot fires. A BC extinguisher is preferred for small fires. ABC is preferred for large fuel fires and structural fires.
Extinguishing Fire Performers:
- Get the attention of the performer.
- Give the performer the location of the fire
- Give the performer a chance to self extinguish (a few seconds)
- If self extinguish fails TIME TO MOVE IN.
- Hold on to your fire-retardant cloth
- Approach the performer
- Ask performer loudly to stop and drop or hold props away.
- Extinguish the fire
For someone on fire... isolate the fire, and ask the performer to stop drop roll if needed.
Never assume a fire will go out by itself.
- Extinguishing an audience member on fire. Try the emergency fire blanket.
- Extinguishing venue. Blanket first, but extinguisher can help.
- Performer on fire. We've covered this, yell out the body part... run in if you need to.
- Runaway prop towards audience. With the SAVE acronym in mind, put your blanket between the fire and the audience member. Someone else can attache the fire.
- Someone tangled with poi. Tell them to hold their hands away, run in, face out of the way, wrap it.
- Hit in the head. Ask if they are okay, and if they are dazed recommend they stop.
- Hysterical fire performer. You might get a drunk performer one day. It's unlikely, but if someone gets hysterical while on fire, you might need to tackle them down with a blanket.
- Ratio of safety personal to performers... there is no rule.
- Distance from performers to audience: also many factors.
- Fire performance - Wikipiedia
- FlowArtsInstitute - Fire Safety Project Playlist - A set of 11 great videos by FlowArtsInstitute.com and