No mater how good the quality of your equipment, parts come loose and wear out. This is especially true when you add fire to the mix. Before you use your equipment, check that all quick links and fasteners are tight. Look for damaged parts that could cause break or scratch you. Trim your wicks when they fray so you don’t have random fire dingle berries. Make sure your fire blanket/Duvetyn is not ripped or damaged and if you are using a damp towel, ensure it is damp enough to put out the fire, but not so damp that it soaks the wicks. Make sure that you have the appropriate fire extinguisher (Type ABC or CO2) and it is fully charged. Always keep first aid kits fully stocked. It is a good idea to have a kit with pliers and any special tools that you may need to do any tool repairs. If you are not preparer, don’t light up.
Fire Spinning Clothing
Generally wearing natural material is the best. Leather (unwaxed) offers the most protection with wool, cotton and silk being acceptable. Duvetyn is a treated 100% cotton fire resistant fabric that is commonly used to make costumes for fire performance. Synthetics, such as nylon and polyester (fleece) will melt and burn your skin. Nomex and Kevlar clothing can be worn when more protection is needed. Usually you will have to have this custom made, or buy fire proof racing clothing. Test all costumes before wearing for performance and use a fire proofing treatment as needed. Keep in mind that hair aside, bare skin is less flammable then most clothing, so some times less costume is the better choice.
Tie back long hair and cover it with a bandana or hat made of the appropriate material when needed. Dampen exposed hair. Some hair gels are fire retardant, but some are very flammable, so test any product in its wet and dry state before using while fire spinning.
Always Spin With a Partner
It is hard to put yourself out when you have poi strapped to your hands. It is also hard to know when your back is on fire. Always have a fire safety ready to put you out in a moments notice. This is the last thing you want to think about while you’re performing. As with yourself, your safety needs to stay sober. You can party when you’re done performing. Your spotter should always be within 3 steps of you. Only use a spotter that is familiar with fire performance and is trained is fire safety.
People Around you
If you are playing with fire, you will soon have an audience. Make sure you have your fuel in a safe designated area away from any performers and in an area that will not get disturbed. Be sure to have a place to spin out extra fuel that is not going to soak people or damage the surrounding in any way. Also make sure that you are in an area that is contusive to fire spinning. You don’t want fancy props, expensive equipment or other people becoming unintentional fire tools. The performance area needs to be clearly marked off to keep you and the audience safe. You safety, or ideally a stage manager, needs to make sure the boundary is obeyed. If you have a gig, make sure the host of the event knows your requirements and hold them to it. Make sure you perform within local fire regulations and have fire marshal approval. If you are asked to perform in an area that you deem unsafe, it is your responsibility to refuse to perform until the situation is fixed. If they can’t accommodate you, keep some glow sticks handy so you can hold up your part of the bargain. Also, if you are performing, you may want to get insurance. Currently, Clown’s of the US is the only company we know if that will insure fire performers.
Fueling your tools
To see a description of the most commonly used fire performance fuels, click here.
Before you can dip your tools, you first have to transport the fuel. Keep fuel in its original container until it is ready to be used. This may be a requirement in some cities. Do not leave fuel in a hot car, because it can evaporate and cause an explosive situation. Do not put fuel in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Avoid transporting fuel if it is available for purchase close to your performance. It is illegal to take liquid fuel on an airplane. Other forms of public transportation may have similar restrictions.
Most performers will use a metal paint can to hold their fuel for dipping. Make sure the can is labeled and the lid fits tightly. The can will wear out occasionally and will need to be replaced. Make sure the container you use has a good seal and it can be tipped upside down without fuel leaking. The container should also be able to take a moderate kick without rupturing. Only carry as much fuel as needed and keep the number of containers to a minimum. Having the entire performance group use the same fuel will simplify matters. An empty container is just as dangerous and more explosive than a full container so treat It appropriately. Never put fuel in a glass container.
Now that we have transported the fuel, it is time to dip the tools. Fire tools typically need to be dipped for a minute to be completely soaked, but may require more time for the first use. For difficult or large tools, a turkey baster works nicely.
Excess Fuel Removal
After fueling, you will typically have excess fuel on your tools. You will need to remove the extra fuel. First you need to allow excess fuel to drain back in to can on is own. Next you will need to remove the fuel that would fly from the wick when performing. The standard method is spinning out. This involves quickly spinning your tools unlit to remove excess fuel. Often times the fuel that is spun off can be recaptured in an empty paint can and placed back in the dipping can. To do this, hold the can with your tool (usually poi) above the bottom of the can and quickly spin the can. For tools that are too difficult to recapture the extra fuel, spin them with a fast downward motion so not to spray fuel everywhere. Find an area that the excess fuel will not cause damage.
Always be comfortable with your tool unlit before you light up. First make sure you are away from the fuel station and all fuel is tightly closed. Ensure you do not have fuel on parts of your tools besides the wicks because this can be a fire hazard. It is best to have someone else light your wicks. Start at the bottom of the wick because the fire will burn upward. A long extension BBQ lighter can help get your hands away from the wicks. If it is windy, you may have to shield the flame for a few seconds until it gets burning. It is easiest to light from another performer or an open oil lamp, but your safety can also light you. Do not keep a lighter in your pocket. If you close catch on fire, it can explode.
Putting out your tools and yourself
Your safety should be holding a fire blanket when ever you are lit. And have a fire extinguisher close at hand in case of an emergency. Your fire blanket can be a wet towel, treated fabric such as duvetyn or a welding blanket.
There are 2 typical methods for putting out your tools. One method is to lay your towel on the ground and set your fire tool in the middle of it. Your safety will then roll the tool up in the blanket to smother the flames. The other method is similar but the safety will take the towel to the under side of the tool and wrap it up while you are still holding it. This takes a little more practice but can be done more quickly. This method is not recommended for larger tools. It is best to put out your tools before they burn out on their own. As fuel runs out, the wick will start burning. Starting form the bottom, most tools can be blow out when they get to this point. It is a good idea to practice putting out tools while the performer is moving, because many people will panic and not stay still in an emergency situation.
After your tools have been extinguished, it is possible for the wicks to continue smoldering for a while. This can be damaging to your wicks and can be an ignition source if placed near any fuels. Placing your wicks inside an air tight metal can can help completely extinguish the wicks. If the wicks stay warm to the touch, assume they are still on fire.
You can be quite sure that you will light yourself on fire at some point. The most common reason for this is fuel transferring from your tools to your body. Typically this is not a major problem if you are prepared. Your safety needs to be ready to call out the body part where you are on fire immediately. Usually a quick brush of your hand across the burning clothing is enough to put it out. If this is not working or you don’t notice the fire, your safety needs to put you out by smothering the flame.
If there is ever a fire that will not go out imediately, go straight for the fire extinguisher.
First Aid for Burns
Burns are the most common injury during fire performance. Get medical attention immediately incase of any injury. If powder from a fire extinguisher contacts the burn, send it with the ambulance so they know how to best treat the injury.
Be Safe and Have fun
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