The following information is a collection of common practices and suggestions from the fire performance community. Sacred Shape does not make any claim to the completeness or accuracy of the information presented. It is always best to do your own research for verification. Playing with fire in any capacity, following any precautions can still be deadly.
Sacred Shape is not responsible for any injury, damage to property or misconduct associated with fire hooping and fire hoops. Play with fire at your own risk!
Fire dancing is a lot of fun, but before you light up there are a few things you should know. Listed below are some basic fire safety information as well as some specifics on fuels and other things related to fire. Please read through this information and take it seriously.
Take good care of your equipment and always check it before use, even if you just did a performance and are about to re-light, check it again. Check all parts for wear. No matter 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 release buttons and spines are tight. Look for damaged parts that could cause breaks or scratch you. Trim your wicks when they fray. Make sure your fire blanket/Duvetyne 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 prepared, 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. Wear tight fitting natural fabrics and cloth. Synthetics are not a good idea, especially fleece. If you have long hair you need to wrap it up or wear a hat. Wetting your hair is also a good idea when it can be done. Hair sprays, dyes, gels are not a good idea. Whatever you are planning on wearing, test it first. Do your performance at least once in the costume you are planning to wear, make sure you are comfortable in in and can move freely. Common sense is your best friend. Duvetyne 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 sometimes 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. Fire resistant kevlar sleeves are a great way to prevent forearm burns from fire spinning and make a great addition to your fire safety kit.
Never spin with fire alone. You need someone else around that is familiar with your routine and your moves and trained in fire safety. This person needs to be comfortable around fire and know what to do in case of an accident. This person should also know first aid. Your “Safety” needs to have a fire blanket or damp towel ready at all times and have a fire extinguisher (ABC) on hand. They should be ready to put you out in a moment’s notice. This is the last thing you want to think about while you’re performing. Your safety should always be within 3 steps of you.
Practice, practice, practice before you light up for the first time. Never light up until you are totally comfortable with your abilities, and take it easy your first time. Don’t try new moves while you are on fire, once again, COMMON SENSE.
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 conducive to fire spinning. 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. Also, if you are performing, you may want to get insurance.
Fuel and Fueling Your Tools
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.
Sacred Shape recommends using high quality white gas (also called naphtha or Coleman camp fuel) for best results with our fire hoops.
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.
Fire tools typically need to be dipped for a minute or more to be completely soaked, but may require more time for the first use. A good way to tell if your wick is soaked is to watch the bubbles it creates while it’s submerged. When the bubbles stop, your wick is ready.
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. Find an area away from where you will be performing, so 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. 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 whenever 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 Duvetyne, 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. It is best to put out your tools before they burn out on their own. As fuel runs out, the wick will start burning. Most tools can be blown 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 will 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 immediately, go straight for the fire extinguisher.
Further Safety Reading
To learn more about fire safety, safe handling of fuels, and more, try these resources to get you started:
- The Safety section at Firepedia covers fuel safety, fire performer insurance, and more.
- F.I.R.E. Magazine: Know Your Fuels compares the various fuels commonly used for fire spinning.
- The Fire Safety page at Trick Concepts gives a good run-down of spinning fire safely.
- Fire training and safety at Home of Poi covers various fire safety topics.
- Info on Material Safety Data Sheets for fuel from Home of Poi: know your fuel, its hazards, and how to use it safely by reading its MSDS.
It’s a good idea to carry a copy of the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for the fuels you carry, as well as a copy of your fire performer insurance policy, if you have one, in your fire spinning kit. Spin smart and keep on burning bright!