New term starts with a bang: fire training! Dan Brown of Labyrinth brought in his kit to talk us through what we need to know.
Kit: In Dan’s box of tricks alone were contact staffs (single and double), fire wands, fire fans, fire poi and fire hula hoops of various kinds. What’s important, he stressed, is that you know how your kit works, that it’s in good condition, what can possibly go wrong with it and how to deal with it if/when it does. Other basic-but-important rules to follow include:
- Stay within your skill level – the time to try out new tricks is not when your prop is on fire.
- Don’t wear clothes that melt – non-synthetic is safer, in close-fitting (ie, non-wafty) layers.
- Check over all your props – links, chains, swivels, ropes, wicks etc – and repair or discard any damaged.
- Be prepared not just technically but psychologically – calm and sober!
Fuel: Paraffin (US: kerosene) is good. White gas/Colman’s fluid, diesel, alcohol/acetone are not (though Dan keeps a can of lighter fluid in his kit box too, as a little squirt on top will ensure the prop catches quickly). Fuel should be handled carefully, kept in a locked metal container, spills avoided, and carefully disposed of – not just chucked down the drain.
Other equipment: Double bucket (to help avoid spills/maximise depth) for dipping. Spin-off bottles to remove excess fuel from poi, a chemical glove to squeeze out excess from fire fans, staff etc, an optional oral syringe for using lycopodium powder. Tin trays on which to lay dipped or dead props. Pilot lights (a tin can full of old wicks or a squashed up toilet roll). Lots of wet towels to extinguish flames. Boxes to contain, transport and keep things separate. Optional but encouraged: first aid kit, extra fire safety equipment (eg small fire extinguisher, fire blanket), insurance documents.
Dan’s talk also included advice on fire performance from a professional point of view. He talked about dividing the space (a dipping area, dead props area, performance space and audience space with plenty of room between the latter), having a spotter to maintain those boundaries and watch out for unintended fire, keeping an eye on your equipment and being aware of the most unpredictable element: the public! Smaller but valid pointers on professionalism, particularly at corporate/wedding gigs, were to bring the wherewithal to clear up after yourself and do your best to avoid making too much of a mess in the first place (be it scorch marks on a venue’s pristine lawn, soot-covered towels in the bathroom or grimy handprints on the bride’s dress).
A written method/procedure outline of each is useful, but a written risk assessment – which we’ll be required to produce for Unit xx – is essential for a gigging performer, and should cover exactly what equipment you’ll be using, what fire equipment you’ll have (eg wet towels, fire extinguisher, fire blanket etc) and under what circumstances each one would be used – and, Dan recommends, should incorporate space at the end to allow for specific additions/updates relevant to the specifics of the gig location.
And then… we got to play with fire! And it was MINT!