This Fire Safety Guide was created by the South African Balance and Flow Arts Collective.
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The video above is as much fire safety info as we could fit into 12 minutes. It gives a brief overview of fire spinning safety. There is more information in the article below.
Are you already spinning fire or wanting to learn?
This is a comprehensive guide explaining all you need to know.
Fire safety is not only about you and your performance, but also about the impact it can have on those around you, so take care to RESPECT;
- The Fire
- The Environment
- Your Fellow Performers and Audience
- And Yourself
For hundreds of years, fire dancing has amazed and inspired people all over the world. It is an ancient art form that captivates audiences and leaves them wanting more!
This booklet explains the guidelines and safety measures to be taken to ensure everyone involved has a wonderful time.
The power is in your hands! Have fun and stay safe.
The Fire Element
Fire is the visible effect of a process called combustion. This is a chemical reaction between oxygen and fuel. The fuel must be heated to its flash point for combustion to occur. So when we talk about a low flash point it means that the fuel does not require much heat before it ignites. These are the most dangerous of fuels.
Understand this element and remember it is both creative and destructive. ALWAYS RESPECT FIRE! This goes for newbie and long-time burners.
It is extremely important to have all necessary equipment on site in case of emergency.
- Wet towel- For smothering the flame to remove oxygen. Not soaking wet!
- Fire extinguisher- For cases where the fire may become out of hand. NEVER USE AN EXTINGUISHER ON A PERSON! Check extinguishers, they need to be serviced regularly.
- Medical aid kit- Containing burn gel, a fire blanket, bandages and gauze. These are your primary requirements for burns.
- First Aid Manual – This normally comes with store bought first aid kits.
Know Your Prop
Always follow manufacturers’ guidance on prop assembly. Different props have different things to look out for.
Basic parts to check regularly:
- Handles are fastened securely
- Swivels are in working order
- Nuts, bolts and screws are securely fastened
- Kevlar is appropriately attached
- Trim frayed Kevlar
The last thing you want is to have your fire flying through the air, free and aimless, into the face of your biggest fans!
The Play Environment
It is vital to check your surroundings, including yourself and make sure there are no fire hazards. A clear space is a happy performing space! As a performer you have the right to declare an environment unsafe, you have the right to say ‘No’. As professional performers you may want to make sure that the client is aware of what an ideal performance space should look like by sharing some of the information below.
Ground obstacles – Dry grass, holes, rocks, people or animals, plants, speakers, electrical cables (anything you could trip on, bash or spray with paraffin).
Raised Obstacles – trees, wires, tent ropes or anything your prop could get hooked on and ignite.
Flammable Items – tents, décor and furniture etc.
Clothing – Wear only natural fibres such as un-waxed leather and cotton. Denim is good. Nothing synthetic such as nylon or polyester (fleece) they will melt and burn your skin. For added protection you can wet performance costumes.
Hair – Tie it up and/or wet it. You can cover with a bandana or hat that is not made of synthetics. Watch out for flammable hair gels and sprays. Use alcohol free products.
Weather– Check the wind if it’s too windy and a gust shift the direction this blows flame into your face which you could inhale and it burn your lungs! Rain makes for slippery surfaces.
Make sure you have enough space!
Code Word and Response
Make sure everyone knows your name and you know the other performers names! A name is the easiest way of getting someone’s attention.
If you don’t know someone’s name ORANGE is a word that cannot be confused with similar sounding words, so if or when someone is on fire this is what to do:
- SHOUT and REACT AT THE SAME TIME: ‘NAME + BODY PART ON FIRE’
- SHOUT and REACT AT THE SAME TIME: ‘ORANGE + BODY PART ON FIRE’
- It can also be helpful to shout the type of prop the person is using if you don’t know their name as this alerts all poi spinners / hoop spinners that they are potentially on fire.
If you are on fire…..
- Place prop on the floor and allow safety officer or fellow performer to pat out the fire using hands or wet towel, OR drop on the floor and roll.
DO NOT PANIC, REMAIN CALM
It is a good idea to have someone around, who is not performing, to monitor the performance and ensure a safe execution.
Fire Safety Officer – Most large events by law have to have a fire marshal. Find out who this person is, introduce yourself and your crew and go over the following safety plan.
- Wet towel use
- Reaction phrases and code words
- Do you have an extinguisher? Yes, great. Please do not use it on me.
- Main responsibility is to keep audience safe and react to the environment catching on fire.
Just because they are profession fire marshals does not mean they are trained on working with fire performers.
These people are extra fire safety and they stand on the side-lines (more often at indoor performances) making sure everyone is safe and not on fire! These people are typically your friends BUT do not want anyone who is inebriated to fulfil this role (1-2 people is generally enough).
State of Mind
- Do not consume drugs or alcohol before a performance
- Do not let someone play if it could potentially endanger you, them or anyone else.
Ok Lekker. Your prop is safe, you are safe, your environment is safe and you have people supporting the process. Now it’s time to play some fire.
This is the fun part where you get to grips with what you can light on fire and what it’s good for.
Substances That Burn
Paraffin (In the US this is called Kerosene)
clear liquid with a strong scent. It has a low flash point and can leave a sticky residue on toys. This produces a low, yellow flame that lasts 5 to 7 minutes (Ideal for long burns and fire spinning)
Lamp Oil (In the US this is called Paraffin)
Pure lamp oil is clear. Its high flash point makes it rather hard to light but ensures that it is not a flashback or transfer risk. It burns for about 5 minutes producing a mid-sized orange flame (Ideal for fire spinning, fire eating extinguishes, fire breathing)
This is lamp oil with additives. It can be used for spinning but should not be used for eating or breathing because of the additives. It’s not as sooty or as smelly as paraffin but in SA it’s very expensive.
Naphtha (White Gas, Lighter Fluid)
A bluish green or clear liquid. It has a very low flash point, which means that it vaporizes at room temperature so make sure the area around the fuel dump is well ventilated. It burns bright orange and lasts about 3 to 4 minutes.(Ideal for fire spinning, contact fire, fire eating vapour tricks, lit spinoffs) Dangerous for fire breathing!
A clear or yellowish liquid solvent. It behaves very much like white gas but is advertised as a more environmentally responsible fuel. The downsides are that it’s hard to find and even harder to legally purchase in large quantities.
Alcohol (Ethanol, Isopropyl)
Clear liquids with low flash points and produce weak and bluish flames. The advantages are that alcohol is available almost everywhere and fires can often be extinguished with water (Ideal for mixing with coloured fuel kits for fire spinning)
Find a fuel that is appropriate for your performance and allows you to feel in control. Many spinners prefer the security of a high flash point fuel like lamp oil for that reason.
*This is a basic list that does not contain all information or legal definitions, please note that certain countries name their fuels differently to others. When travelling please consult a local expert as to which fuels are best for your needs and always do your research before you burn.
Dipping and Lighting Up
- Create a dipping station away from the audience – make sure the general public has no access to this area.
- Mark fuel cans
- Soak wicks until bubbles have dissipated, do not leave your prop in the tin! Especially if you are sharing with others.
- Squeeze wicks rather than spinning off into the environment. Or in the case of poi use a spin off bucket.
- Have a drip towel on a tray
- Check your equipment for fuel spills (e.g. on the handles where your hands are placed)
- Dip in metal and not in plastic
- Re-Dip straight after you burn, to prolong the life of your wicks.
- Try not to cause any spillage that will make the floor slippery, or kill plants and other life.
Light up away from the dipping station!
We all want to play and have a good time and here are a few pointers to make sure everyone stays smiling!
When in a communal spinning area or when joining in someone’s fire jam take care to do the following:-
- First find and ask the right person who will be at the dipping station for information about the performance, to make sure you can join in.
- It may be a choreographed/professional performance
- There may be number restrictions
- If you are told you cannot spin, please respect this. There will always be a reason and it’s most likely not personal.
- Tell someone (or a spotter) your name so they can look out for you while you spin
- Provide your own fuel
- Don’t leave your toys soaking in a dipping tin that isn’t yours
- Don’t leave your toys scattered around the dipping station, people can trip on them.
- Say thank you 🙂
First Aid (burn basics)
There are three primary types of burns: first, second and third-degree. Each degree is based on the severity of damage to the skin. With first degree being the most minor and third degree being the most severe.
- First degree burns: red, non-blistered skin
- Second degree burns: blisters and some thickening of the skin
- Third degree burns: widespread thickness with a white, leathery appearance
Caring for Burns
First Degree- Immediately immerse or run the burned area under cool water. This lowers the temperature of the skin and stops the burn from getting any worse. Avoid using ice.
After the skin has been cooled, do not apply lotions or salves. Leave the skin uncovered and dry.
Second Degree- Run the burn under cool water until burning stops. After the skin has been thoroughly cooled, you may apply an antibiotic ointment or cream. If the skin is broken do not immerse in water as this can lead to infection. Cover the burn in a clean dry dressing.
Third Degree- After removing the heat source, cover the area in a clean, dry dressing. Victims may fall into shock suddenly it is recommended to take the person to hospital as soon as possible.
PLEASE refer to an official first aid manual before performing first aid on victims of burns. Ideally call for assistance from the medical team on hand.
*This is fire safety in the South African context. There are many international resources but we wanted to translate it into something more applicable for SAFAS.
* For a downloadable .pdf version of this Fire Safety Guide, follow this link: downloadable version