safety Stop! In the name of love safety!

Every time I get a chance I say big “Thank You” s to the folks who support a fire show.   Spotters are the people at fire performances  who handle putting stuff out and keeping people safe. They have many duties and it’s a tough job.

One group once told me that having spotters obvious to an audience was a sign of unprofessionalism and I felt compelled to disagree.  It’s is absolutely dangerous and if I’m on fire, the closer my personal putter-outer is, the happier I am. Here’s an example of how it can go wrong-when the host of a kid’s program sets himself ablaze.

In the photo above is there a spotter in the pic for a Phoenix Swords show?  Yes, and we can all live with it.

For the first few years of the troupe, I was one of the primary spotters. Mistakes are part of the territory but prime spotters will be good risk-assessment people. I’d rather be doing a ‘derp’ moment for accidentally grabbing a hot prop with fingerless gloves than ever put a performer at risk. (Not a mistake I made twice) Here are some things spotters need to know.

Communicate ALWAYS.   One of the items we can whip up on the back of a napkin if need be is everyone’s job on the stage. We have a stage chart that is standard  for EVERY JOB with places for the primary safety person, performers waiting to go on, fuel and how to move onstage.  On the show-by show chart we break jobs down by person, tool, who is fueling, who is a spotter and who is in charge of music (excel spreadsheets are great for this) Before we go on, everyone knows what is what and we ask and we do dry runs. We even have a default spot for live musicians when we get them-out of the way!  We have protocols for “you’re on fire stop spinning!” and a number of other emergencies but sometimes people panic and we have protocols in place for that as well. Fire has particular issues that swords never do, not the least of which is night blindness and being physically unable to hear anything over roaring flames. It’s important to drill, drill, drill.

Be ready to take a faceful and stand your ground-don’t take it personally. I’ve had to fight with fire performers and  although they are ultimately responsible for their own safety in performance, I will do my bulldog impression if it means a safer show, regardless of how cool something might be alight. I’ve had performers bark at me because their favorite torch wasn’t in place when it was in their right hand. I’ve had people snap at me when I moved a hot tool so it didn’t start the grass on fire and I’ve gone to the mat about certain fuels.  I’m not here to be a servant, I’m here to be a safety and if you want to be a pain about it-that’s your prerogative.  I’ll be a pain in the ass right back, everyone’s security is riding on it.

You can’t be all things. My job is to support performers. Sometimes that’s hug performers, feed performers, wet down performers, massage performers, get their favorite tools and be a sounding board. But sometimes I get busy and my priority list may not be your priority list.  I have a particular stare I’ve been known to give when someone complains about the fuel I’ve purchased on short notice  or that their favorite fuel-dispensing  method has been changed. I try my best to wear a lot of hats in a short time if we have a small number of performers. And this gets a little more crazy if I have to go on stage as well (see excel spreadsheet where I’ve written your name!)  and I’m fueling my own tools.   Admittedly, we spoil some of our performers, but they give good show and that’s what we are here to do. But still not your mommy. Whine too much-be the subject of some good-natured ribbing from your fellows.


I include this photo just because it is one of my favorites of three excellent human beings who should avert their eyes about the next paragraph.

Fire breathers are a special case.   Fire breathers are often the center of attention in a room, it’s their personalities-they take fuel and light it on fire while blowing it out of a face hole. That they are willing to do that tells you about them in a nutshell.  Their levels of personal safety and that of others are in different galaxies and they are the ones I butt heads with most often.  When we do fire shows and do fire-breathing-each breather gets a personal, specially trained  safety plus anyone else who is free. We don’t combine fire-breathing with any other moving activity (note we’ve been known to have stationary fire carefully arrayed around them for a big finale) And I actually have  a special “fire-breather kit” that I put together for shows because they often arrive, ready to do their thing, without equipment or fuel. They say it’s because they know I’ll have it,  but there have been times I’ve had to do some last-minute improvisation because I hadn’t expected them to do the trick. Do I want to try it myself someday? I do.  I practice aspiration and expelling but just can’t take that last step! But if you are asking which of the fire performers I am giving the special eye? It’s these guys in the picture above..


Another example of “spot the spotter” blocking wind so a performer may fire-eat in high winds.

Least glamorous job ever but one of the most important.  Some folks might argue that one has to be a good fire performer to be a good spotter. I disagree. They have to aware of how fire works,  good safety and prompt responses. If anything, I’ve found that performers are a little more tolerant of risky behaviors and less focused. It’s a question of interest and thought process. A performer is watching the act, a spotter is watching bodies and fire. Good spotters understand night blindness,  how to spot restive audience members and are not interested in making nice.  I’ve rebuked spotters for being too full of themselves during a show, they are not the feature. But they are the ones who will carefully walk behind a performer who has left wisps of grass burning, putting it out without drawing attention to themselves.   Or reach around a joking performer and put out a clothing patch. And they do it for no glory, no tips and little recognition except for grateful performers. When you clap, be sure to think of them 🙂