It's All Fun & Games
'Til Someone Burns the Theatre Down
Customers often contact us seeking more information about using our products as safely as possible. I personally think that this is a great thing, and a sign that the majority of our customers are as thoughtful as they are creative. While we in the customer service department are always happy to answer any questions about the use of our products, there are other resources available. One of the best is published by the National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 1126 - Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics before a Proximate Audience, establishes standards for anyone using indoor pyrotechnics for a performance.
In the authors' own words, NFPA 1126 was written to "provide requirements for the reasonable protection of pyrotechnic operators and audiences... provide guidelines to the authority having jurisdiction for the approval of the use of pyrotechnics... and to provide requirements for local permits." In other words, this is the standard that your local fire marshal probably refers to when deciding whether or not you'll be allowed to use pyrotechnics in your show. Now, consider the following hypothetical situation you are enrolled in a class and the final exam is coming up; your grade for the class depends upon how well you do on the final and the professor offers you the chance to look over the questions that will be presented on that test. Would anybody knowing the importance of that exam pass up the chance to see what would be expected of them come test day? When you are preparing to use pyrotechnics in your show you are in the same situation, although too many people never even know the test is coming!
Please don't misunderstand me, this standard would be a valuable resource even if there were no such thing as a fire marshal. It provides definitions for many of the products used in the manufacture and performance of pyrotechnic effects allowing you to talk to manufacturers, performers and fire safety officials knowledgeably. The standards for performance, storage and transportation of effects are not just government guidelines, but good rules to follow any time to ensure maximum safety. Of particular interest are the standard minimum distances established for various effects such as flash pots, airbursts and glitter mines. These sections can be useful when dealing with a stubborn director who insists on placing a flash pot two feet down stage of an actor.
While NFPA 1126 is not the most thrilling read in the English language -- it is a government standard, after all! -- it does provide the information needed to put on a safe display. This booklet, together with our own Special Effects with Fire and Smoke book, make up a crash course in pyrotechnics from manufacture to performance. For those of you who have yet to read it, Special Effects gives a history of various pyrotechnic devices and an explanation of how they work, and what effects they can be used to create. It's a sort of springboard for designers who know that they need a special effect, but are not sure where to begin. Once the effect has been chosen, the designer can then refer to the standard for guidelines on setting up, firing and tearing down the devices used in the effect. Finally, when it comes time for the fire marshal to inspect the production, the designer can refer to the standard ahead of time to know what information he will need to provide, and what questions he might possibly have to answer.
Having these books in your possession does not mean that you will automatically produce a safe effect that is approved by the fire marshal. Just as the student who is allowed to see the final exam ahead of time must still go home and study for the test, the designer who reads these books must still invest the time, money and common sense to get the best, safest effect for his show. You'll have to earn the grade on your particular "final" but at least you'll have an easier time studying.
Theatre Effects Customer Service Department
Theatre Effects, 1810 Airport Exchange Blvd. #400, Erlanger, KY 41018
Phone: 1-800-791-7646 or 513-772-7646 Fax: 513-772-3579