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Fire Performance Spotter Training Notes

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 3 months ago

Fire Performance Spotter Training Notes

General comments


The following document is intended as a supplement for spotter training. It is not intended as a substitute for practical training, but as reinforcement and background information.


As a spotter, you do not sit back and enjoy the show. You pay attention to all the factors that might result in an problem, try to anticipate problems, and observe the performance carefully, trying to spot problems as soon as they happen. These factors include all the issues mentioned under "scenarios" as well as the performer's clothing and equipment, the terrain and surroundings, the moves the performer is doing, and whether the performer just seems to be having a bad day.


You will need to make snap decisions about whether and when to intervene with a performer in trouble based on your reading of the situation, of the performer, and your own judgment. Advance communication is very helpful. Communication in the moment is critical.


Your priorities for who/what to protect are, in order, Audience, Venue, Performer. This point is especially important to fire marshals.


Always take your lead from the performer and do what the performer asks—until the performer gets into a situation where you need to take charge. When that happens, you need to act swiftly and decisively.




Spotters will typically operate in several different situations, each of which has a different mix of relevant factors:


  • The crowd: How dense? Will they interfere? Will they be mentally altered?
  • Advance communication with performer: Can you work out what you expect of each other in advance?
  • Acquaintance with performer: Do you know this person, his expectations, skill level, etc?
  • Skill of performer: Does this guy know what he's doing?


Spin jam


  • Audience: Typically low-key, helpful, other fire people.
  • Advance communication: Easy, but doesn't always happen.
  • Acquaintance with performer: Varies, but usually good.
  • Skill of performer: Varies. This is the scenario where even very skilled performers are most likely to try out dodgy moves.


Backyard party


  • Audience: Typically low-key and friendly.
  • Advance communication: Easy, should happen.
  • Acquaintance with performer: Varies.
  • Skill of performer: Varies.


Pro gig


  • Audience: Frequently intrusive and excited. May crowd the exit lane, spotter, and performer. Probably includes altered members.
  • Advance communication: Must happen.
  • Acquaintance with performer: Usually good.
  • Skill of performer: Varies.


Burner event


  • Audience: Occasionally intrusive and excited, but often well-behaved. Will include altered members.
  • Advance communication: Unlikely.
  • Acquaintance with performer: Varies.
  • Skill of performer: Varies.


Other risk factors


Take note of these factors before the performer lights up. Point out any concerns to the performer, and if possible, offer to help correct the problem.


  • Clothing: Anything with fur, feathers, or fringe (this includes cutoff jeans). Synthetic materials, including pleather and PVC. Anything gauzy.
  • Equipment: Heavily worn gear; poi wicks attached with key rings or trigger snaps; ball-chain made of aluminum (colored ball-chain is a dead giveaway) or plastic; any wick held together with baling wire; any other tools made of obviously flimsy materials.
  • Terrain & surroundings: broken ground that a performer might stumble on; smooth surfaces that might become slick from cast-off lamp oil; low-hanging tree limbs or other overhead obstructions; dry vegetation.
  • Performer: performer is mentally altered, distracted, inexperienced, suffering stage-fright, etc.


Hairy situations


These are situations where you may need to take charge.


Poi gets tangled — on skin


Move in immediately. Order performer to "STOP." Cup wicks with towel, lift up and away from skin, attempt to place towel between skin and wick. Extinguish wicks. Untangle chain. Assess burn, treat as appropriate.


Poi gets tangled — near skin or behind back


Prepare to move in. Performer may be able to untangle, but may need help, and will be maneuvering to avoid contact with flame. Move in when performer calls for help, or when your judgment of the situation calls for it. If you can cup wicks with towel while performer is moving, do it. If not, order performer to "STOP." Cup wicks with towel and keep wicks above and away from the performer's skin as much as possible. If practical, untangle chains while lit; if not, extinguish first. You may need to tackle the performer if repeated "STOP" orders don't work.


Poi gets tangled — off skin


Prepare to move in. Performer can often untangle, but may need help. Performer is probably not in immediate danger of injury. Move in when performer calls for help. Cup wicks with towel. If practical, untangle chains while lit; if not, extinguish first.


Hair on fire


Move in immediately. Order performer to "STOP." Performer should stop and assume arms-out posture. Pat down with towel to extinguish flame.


Clothing on fire


With small fires, do not move in immediately: many clothing fires die out quickly. If fire persists more than 2-3 seconds, alert performer by shouting "SLEEVE" or equivalent and prepare to move in—the alert ideally should be a single word indicating what is on fire. If performer does not extinguish fire and fire persists 3 more seconds, or if fire spreads quickly, order performer to "STOP." Performer should stop and assume arms-out posture. Pat down with towel to extinguish flame.


Poi goes flying


Performance should stop. If performer continues, order performer to "STOP" as you hunt down the wayward wick and extinguish it.


Audience member enters fire circle


Move in immediately. Tell audience member to step outside fire circle. If this is not instantly effective, physically remove him from fire circle. Call for help if needed.


Fuel container fire


If fuel container has close-fitting lid, place lid on to smother. If not, lay sturdy towel on top to smother. If towel is not effective, use fire extinguisher. Do not douse with water. Take care not to tip container.


Ground fire


Grass, wood chips, etc, can occasionally catch fire. These fires generally die out quickly, but cannot be ignored. Performers should be aware of them and stamp them out quickly. If the performer does not stamp it out, and the fire persists more than a few seconds, wait until the performer has moved away and stamp it out. Keep an eye on that spot in case embers flare back up. In the unlikely event that the fire spreads, order performer to "STOP." Clear the circle, smother the fire if possible, extinguish with extinguisher if not, and take whatever other actions the situation demands.


Normal situations


Extinguish wicks


Lay towel on ground for performer to lay wicks on. Completely cover wicks, wrap towel tightly around wicks, and smother thoroughly. Take care to avoid hot metal hardware, which may be dangerously hot even through one layer of towel. Large or complex tools may require multiple towels and/or each wick smothered separately.


Light wicks


Light from underneath, with lighter. Some fuels do not ignite readily. Back off once lit and take towel.


Monitor fuel depot


Busy fuel depots should be inspected as often as circumstances permit. Top off empty soaking tanks. Remove empty fuel canisters and set them aside uncapped. Take note of equipment that seems to have been left behind, and set aside.




  • Towel. Should be dense and fairly large. Do not use thin, threadbare, or small towels. Should be kept slightly damp, not dripping wet. Should be used folded over to protect your hands and maximize smothering effectiveness.
  • Duvetyn blanket. Alternative to towel, useful when water is scarce.
  • Fire extinguisher. Should be "ABC" type. Always shoot low (at the base of the fire), avoid the face.
  • Water bucket. Actually not very useful in emergencies, but good for wetting towel, cooling minor burns, etc.




Fuels typically used by fire performers are White Gas (naphtha) and Lamp oil (paraffin).


  • White gas: Ignites readily and evaporates quickly. Burns hot and bright. Transfers easily, but transferred flames also burn out quickly.
  • Lamp oil: Ignites stubbornly and evaporates slowly. Burns slightly less brightly. Transfers will be sticky, burn longer, and will be more painful. Slung-off fuel will stick on hard surfaces, be slick, and can be a hazard to good footing.

Version 0.2, 15 Jun 2007


Prepared by Adam Rice. Feedback welcome.

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Comments (1)

Eric Bagai said

at 10:08 pm on Feb 13, 2009


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