Teaching Fire Safety

Teaching Fire Safety

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Featured image taken by E Wintersong Tashlin. Jessica Walkenson is an awesome mom!  

For a topic as obviously important as fire safety, it’s fascinating how many approaches to safety are taken across festivals and fire jams. I’ve seen an event where only one spinner was allowed to burn at a time with two on-duty trained safeties, events with hundreds of lit spinners and a handful of volunteer untrained safeties, and even a well-attended fire jam where “are there any loaner duvies” was met with “oh, you mean a wet towel?” The risks inherent to fire spinning are fairly obvious (read: fire is really really hot and wants to kill you) and one needs not look any further than Youtube to see oodles of horrific burning-related accidents, so I think it’s about time we address an important question:

Are we failing to properly teach fire safety? I spoke to a couple of event organizers and jam leaders to get their perspectives on teaching fire safety to newcomers.

Tedward runs a weekly fire jam of the Los Angeles area. “Since comprehensive fire safety classes are rather involved affairs, they’re not usually held regularly. So new members to jams are usually given the verbal run-down, then advised to avoid leaving their comfort zone as a performer or a spotter until they have taken one. Unfortunately, all too often, a new person will be given a towel and told to “watch him spin” with no other safety training. Such spotters are frequently useless, or even less than useless (freak out AND take the towel with them). So the selfishness of utilizing completely raw spotters should be avoided. A short class on communication and expected duties should be a dead minimum; coupled with controlled live-fire extinguishing.”


Photo by Ravenbane's FireCraft

Photo by Sean Ferry. Breathing by Michael Stomp and Ravenbane’s FireCraft.

Tara is the safety organizer for a major east coast event.  “We have a rotation of on-duty safety vets that watch over the field each night, who are established and experienced community members that we trust to engage in proper fire safety technique. Before the burn begins each night, also we hold a brief mandatory safety meeting, during which I overview basic safety procedures as well as our field policies. For example, we limit the number of spinners on the field every year, depending on the size of our field space (we allocate a certain amount of space for each spinner, taking into account that some props require more space than others to avoid potentially risky scenarios.) We also don’t allow fleshing or breathing, and require a 1:1 ratio of spinners to safeties. Honestly, I don’t feel that a 1:1 ratio is always necessary, but since there are newbies present and we don’t have time to vet every spinner, it’s important in order to void risk of new spinners burning without safeties.”

John runs a weekly spinjam in the New England area. “At our Spinjam, we require every person who burns or safeties to to attend a safety briefing. We’ve gone through a few different methods of enforcing this, including hand stamps for larger burns, but mostly we work off of the honor system combined with recognition and observation of whether people seem to know what they’re doing. The briefing covers safetying, fueling & spinoffs, clothing types, safety outs, dump management. Safetying encompasses standing up, how to alert your spinner, techniques for extinguishing in different situations, etc. We then strongly encourage all new spinners to take a lit safety class, in which they learn to extinguish a fuel transfer, safety-out a prop, and handle poi cuffs. The instructor wears long sleeves or Kevlar sleeves, and heavy leather gloves, and we have an experienced back-up safety on hand. Care is also taken that students cycle through duvetynes so that the duveys don’t soaked in fuel over the course of the class.”

I think these perspectives are of utmost importance to our community. Maintaining public reputation, retaining our valuable event spaces, and safety of our community members are crucial, and it’s important that we teach safety procedure in deliberate and well thought out manners. There’s no single correct way to do it, but keep these approaches in mind when organizing safety for your event, and you’ll be off to a good start.

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Mariya K is the creator of Fire Arts Magazine as well as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator at the gooddesigner.net. She is ultimately the Creative Director at Fire Arts Magazine