Safety and Licensing
We get a lot of inquiries about pyrotechnic licenses and permits at Theatre Effects. Usually, we're asked something like, "what sort of license do I need to use your products?" We're always glad to take your questions about these issues, because it means you're trying to use your effects safely and legally. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to the question of licenses and permits.
Currently there is no such thing as a nation-wide license or permit for the use of indoor pyrotechnics. Licensing of pyrotechnicians, for the most part, is handled by your State Fire Marshal's office, while performance permits are handled by whatever authority has jurisdiction over the performance venue. Usually, this means the local fire marshal but, depending upon the venue, it could also be any one of a number of other authorities. Sometimes, determining the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) is almost as much a challenge as obtaining the permit!
So what should you do if you're planning to use pyrotechnics in your next event and want to do so safely and legally? First, remember that if you are the person setting up and operating the effects, it's ultimately your responsibility to make sure your show meets all safety requirements and has the permission of the AHJ. If a club manager, promoter or director promises that they'll "take care of" the permit for you, make sure you have that permit in hand before you set up your equipment. It is almost always better to handle the permitting process personally, however, as you will know more about your effects, hardware, and safety equipment.
The first step in obtaining a permit from the AHJ is to determine what requirements he'll want you to meet. You can do this simply by calling his office and asking directly. However, you'll appear much more professional (and, consequently, have a better shot at getting the permit) if you already have most of the information he'll probably want. This is why it's so important to be familiar with NFPA 1126.
NFPA 1126 is the "Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience," which was compiled by a panel of pyrotechnic and fire-safety experts for the National Fire Protection Association. This standard contains the guidelines that most AHJs will use in determining whether or not to give permission for your show. In addition to specifying how many fire extinguishers should be available, minimum distances to the audience and other such details, NFPA 1126 also tells the AHJ what sort of paperwork he should expect to receive from you. Being familiar with this standard, you can give him all of the information he'll want before he even asks for it.
Be aware that not every authority will want the same information. Some will want very detailed descriptions of every product you are using, while some may only want a list of the products you plan to use and a cue sheet. However, if you provide all of the information called for in NFPA 1126, you should be able to satisfy almost any authority.
Of course, all of the paperwork in the world won't help you if your effects are set up or operated in an unsafe manner. This is why many authorities will want to make an on-site inspection of the venue before granting final permission to go ahead with your show. This inspection may simply be to check the location of pyrotechnic hardware and fire extinguishers, or the AHJ may wish to see a demonstration of the effects you plan to use. Again, familiarity with NFPA 1126 will allow you to make sure your setup meets all of the standards for safety that the AHJ is looking for.
Think of the permitting process as a test. Just as you took tests in school to check your knowledge of a subject, the permitting process will check your knowledge of fire safety. Just as you wouldn't walk into a test without studying if you really wanted to pass, you shouldn't go into the permitting process without studying the "text book" first. You may not be asked about everything in that text, but you'll need to be familiar with everything if you want to do well.
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