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Fire on Stage

Discussion in 'Safety' started by wemeck, Dec 3, 2003.

  1. wemeck

    wemeck Active Member

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    During one performance of A Christmas Carol in college the pyro guy lost his lighter for the sparkle effect for the coming of Christmas-Past. The ASM got off headsets to run and get the pyro-guy another lighter. In the mean time the stage left crew chief got off head set prior to the ASM to find a lighter. The Pyro guy got the lighter and the effects off on cue. The prepackaged pyro effects went off, but they shot at angle less than 90 degrees and towards some scenery. These packages were self contained and looked like a C or D sized engine for a toy rocket. Well the soft-covered flat did not catch fire, and was only a little scorched. The fake snow material caught fire. So there I was in the booth with watching this growing red glow on stage. My Spot-Op says, “Speez, I think there is a fire over the headset.” I call down to the back stage people over the headset and get no response. The glowing red dot grew larger. The Pyro-Guy left told me he was going to run and take care of it, but his travel distance to the now small fire was 200 feet, visual distance of like 30 feet from the stage left caliper. All the time the actors are continuing with the scene completely unaware or working past the red glow turned small flame. Flame size of about 4 inches from my point of view. Unbeknownst to me some of the Crachit children were playing with one of the abandoned headsets back stage, and had heard that chatter about the fire. The little darling had run to the changing rooms all excited about the fire. Then there was another poof, and the fire caught the rest of the fake snow material. All the time I am leaning on the call button. When I saw the third flare up I counted to ten and brought up the house lights.

    When the house lights went up the actors stopped and then took notice to the fire. Well another member of the theater faculty, who was not part of the production, jumps up and tries to start an evacuation while the house manager had already took a position center stage. With in a minute of the house lights being up the ASM and stage left crew chief had the fire out.

    After the production the production manager came in a “interrogated” each member of the crew individually and the theater department had a whole meeting about the incident.
     
  2. cruiser

    cruiser Active Member

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    There is a local theatre that was built in the 1960's and the black onstage tabs have never ever been taken down and cleaned in how ever long they have been there, so they have that covering of dust that isnt noticeble to the audience, but when you go up close the curtain is a weird dull blackish colour.

    We were doing a show there, and although it was totally not ment to happen it made a pretty good effect.
    In one scene, the SM set off a starters pistol in reaction to gunfire on stage. she held the gun up right next to the tab, just off stage...
    When she pulled the trigger a spark jumped out of the pistol, and a flame just flew straight up the tab, it was over in like 10seconds...
    Even though it wasnt ment to happen, it looked pretty wild :)
     
  3. wemeck

    wemeck Active Member

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    Was there any consequences or fall out from the fire?
     
  4. wolf825

    wolf825 Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Hiya,
    Wow..cool story...sounds like fun for all.. Did they still do the fire effect for shows after that one? Can you offer some more info about this instance--such as who did this effect and their background etc and the outcome of this incident??

    (puts on pyro-safety-officer hat)
    FWIW, pyro accidents and the topic of pyro effects is a DANGEROUS one which we do not talk much about on this website for liability reasons, nor do we give or offer instruction, even tho some of us out here have years of experience--its just not a thing you can convey in words and be SAFE with doing. So to all the other folks out there who may be doing similar effects for their shows or thinking of cool effects like this one for a show, Let me point out the NUMBER of mistakes made here in this story, so you can consider and understand the depth of danger and detail you have to consider when a pyro effect is to be used. This is NOT a tutorial in how to do effects--but merely to show you that in what seemed like a simple effect and story--there appears to be a LOT of mistakes that were made.

    First off--clear BASIC pyro safety instruction states that ANYTIME pyro is to be used you MUST have "spotters" on both sides of the stage WITH Fire Extinguishers ready to go at ALL times, not just firing time. There should also be an "extinquishing box" for un-fired pyro, and rules and methods exist for disposal of product that did not fire, as well as HARSH rules for set up, proximity, inspection and operation of ANY effect. The "shooter" should be in contact with PYRO crew on fire extinguishers at all times, and THEY should be the ones to give a go /no-go to determine proximity of the effect to the actors and the sets. Reason being is the person firing out front can NOT determine the proximity of an actor to the effect in real depth perception. Additionally--if the effect shoud get knocked or bumped, the spotters can negate the firing of the effect because they will have seen it out of sorts or being moved. When doing pyro on a stage, its also critical that ALL items including sets, legs, softgoods, props and "snow" be tested for fire-retardant..if it doesn't pass it doesn't get used--period.
    The ASM's should NOT have left their posts or been off of headset--its the PYRO crew job to carry out this effect and handle all responsibilties of the effect..and when doing pyro its not stage crew or ASM crew place to fill their shoes and leave their posts or leave headset communication with the booth. If pyro crew is not avail--the effect doesnt happen, period.

    Call me the anal safety officer for pyro on here...but I figured it was best to state a few of the more obvious problems I just read for others to learn from about this so they don't repeat the mistakes or take pyro effects lightheartedly. A big THANK YOU for sharing this tale..it goes to re-iterate how dangerous and unpredictable fire or pyro effects on stage can be. Sometimes folks tend to forget...
    LAST thing I would note and this is a HUGE one--if your pyro guy needs a lighter to fire the effects--there is a HUGE problem with the effect & product, and the safety issues or reliability of that effect. Lighters and "fuse" effects are UNRELIABLE in timing and safety. Fuses can be made to burn at a set rate of speed, BUT once lit they cannot be stopped..additionally "old" or "dry" fuses can and do burn at a different rate of speed--or "instantly" thus burning the pyro guy, therefore fuse-type effects that need a flame to fire should NEVER be used. ALL stage effects are fired from electronic means, with safety, test, ready and kill switches being prominant on the most basic of firing panels. This allows precision control and safety measures to be in place. In the 3-8 seconds it would take for the fuse to travel to the pyro, an actor could fall back or step into the range of the effect and there would be no way to stop it. Also--fuse effects are difficult to "time" correctly to happen on a cue.

    If anyone is doing pyro--you MUST hire experienced people licensed & insured, with experience to use the PROPER product for the stage size and effect and proximity and put in to effect ALL safe guards and considerations. Pyro is no joke or should be taken lightly...ask the fans of Great White. I could go on more about the issues I read, but I hope the point is clear and Wemeck will post more info about the fallout of this effect to the show and the crews for all to learn from.

    -wolf
     
  5. wemeck

    wemeck Active Member

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    It was not fun for all. The department chair at the time canceled pyro for the next show, and until the formal inquisition was over. The end result were the following:
    1.) The ASM should not have left head-sets or at the minimum somebody should have been on head set back-stage.
    2.)Actors are not to be on head-set.
    3.)Was the fake snow fire retardant? Which it was.
    4.)The assistant Department Chair was critized for trying to evaculate the theater without authorization from the house manager. Which in itself was a hazard.

    1.) The operator was an undergraduate student with some experience.
    2.) The Pyros used were prefabricated so no ATF license was required and the rating on the Pyro was below Class A. So no formal Pyro license was required at the time. This was all before 9/11 so pyro was not reclassified.
    3.) The Pyro was tested and approved by the facility manager.
    Now if you want to order and mix Powder A with Powder B you need a type 19 ATF license in the USA.
    4.)The University was self-insured, but some of us had professional liability insurance through our Homeowners/renter policy.

    The reason for the accident was the failure of the prefabricated pyro. After examination of the spent cartridge there was a chip in the rim were the effect fired. Because of the chip the pyro effect listed to one side.

    To this day I maintain personla liability insurance just incase anything goes wrong. Nothing Yet!!! Knock on Wood!

    I guess one thing that should be explored is how do you get a pryo license?

    I know ATF type 19 is actually not that hard to get expensive around $200 and expires after two years. Must be us citizen and I think 18 and over.
    In the state of Illinois they require a Firearm Owner Identification (F.O.I.D) card to transport firearms, ammunition, and black powder. Since 9/11 I think they now require a F.O.I.D card for farmers to get dynamite to remove trees and such. Been along time since my Father-In-law had to remove any trees on the farm that way.

    Restriction on the F.O.I.D card in Illinois are if your are under 18 when you apply with a parental/guardian's signature, and you are restricted the rifles and shotguns. If your 21 then you can purchase and transport all types of civilian firearms and munitions. The funny thing is these license require no classes or certification test. Just a clean criminal record and US citizenship.
     
  6. wolf825

    wolf825 Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Wow very interesting info! Thanks for posting.... a Chip in the pyro--amazing how such a small deviation can alter things. And while snow may be fire-retardant, it does not mean it will not burn if enough heat is applied...and that applies for anything that is "flameproofed".

    Excellent info...thanks!

    -wolf
     
  7. dvsDave

    dvsDave Benevolent Dictator Administrator Senior Team CB Mods Fight Leukemia

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    ControlBooth.com Admin Note:

    If you are planning on having Pyrotechnic effects in your performance, you must check your STATE, COUNTY, and LOCAL laws regarding pyro regulations and rules.
     
  8. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Brings up a pyro story from me. We (my old theater company) were using a flash powder A/B mixture with electronic fuses once in specially constructed aluminum flash pots set into the stage deck. All safety was done, fired at the booth with fire extinguisher fire man back stage with an override for the pyro. Worked well all thru the run with members from the audience coming onto the stage to sit at a table for a fake seance that was well away from the flash pots. That is until at one pont just as the seer/cast member running the show was walking around the stage warning people not to leave their seats because she could feel strange things in the air, the flash pot she just walked by went off all by itself. Figure it had to be static electricity or something because I was on the switch and was nowhere near it. There was no other way to fire it. Very interesting, talking about ghosts and our Hallowe’en show being interesting, this night was for sure. Good thing the actress was experienced and was able to just carry on in spite of all.

    Wolf and others, any theories on what will have set it off besides some kind of static electricity that had never happened before or since?
     
  9. zac850

    zac850 Well-Known Member

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    it could have been some sort of short on the line, or maybe some other wire running next to it shorted onto that wire (I know thats why TWA 800 crashed...im thinking along those lines)
     
  10. wolf825

    wolf825 Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Hi Ship,
    Well based on what you wrote I can tell you what most likely happened and it does involves Static electricity--but most of all it involves those
    Aluminum pots more then anything as the cause. As soon as you wrote aluminum, I got a red warning flag. Also--How were these pots set into the floor--in another aluminum housing perhaps? Even if not, Aluminum is one of those metals that loves to pick up free electrons...which is why I believe about 8-10 years ago the pyro industry stopped making flashpots out of aluminumn and switched to zinc or a coated aluminum alloy of sorts. Now if you had the cans sitting inside another can--thats even twice the problem. If you have aluminum inside aluminum--what happens is a charge will build up between the two cans..as the charge builds you will get sparks and static charges that will arc along the walls of the can-and presto. Did it fire your electric match or did it just ignite off the AB powder? With your actor walking around (I'm sure they wore something like a shawl, light wool bottoms or something that would have helped with the charge) they were creating static electricity--especially if the air is dry and warm, and I would bet that the cans could have arced together with the static

    Second theory--and it ivolves aluminum more, Even if you only had one can and not outer can, you can still build up a field of static electricity in the aluminum can and elsewhere. AB powder is super senisitive..heck it warns you clearly NOT to shake the powder hard or vigorously after you mixed it cause static charges will build up and ignite the stuff. AB powder is a oxidizer chemical mixed with a metal powder, and the metal is (guess--) aluminum powder. Putting the aluminum powder, into an aluminum can, and setting that possibly into an aluminum can or not--you're making two separate fields (the light powder and the solid can) that will collect static--especially if the freshly mixed the AB got a little bit "overshaken" and built up its own charge going in..then it was bound to go off with ANY static build up around it. :!: Were the cans "grounded" with a static drain wire? Aluminum housing when you're using usually helps to have one of those attached...helps drain off any charges that get built up.

    That would be my theory and take on it... There IS a possibility that static between your set up to fire, and the can on stage--and some general static travling along the ground MAY have set it off, but I would bet first its one of the two theorys above.. Thats my take on the situation...

    -wolf
     
  11. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Your concepts astound me. Very perceptive and knowledgable. I was thinking of some red died flowing linnen dress she was wearing and no doubt some kind of knit shawl. Static charge was on the mind. Extra shaking a possibility - who knows, the tech was careful and trained but not at your level it would seem. The flash pots were cast aluminum about 1/8" thick by 1"x2"x1" that used to be bracket frames to track lighting equipment so they would even if cast junk alumunum carry a charge well enough for the equipment ground. Given this, it could just be possible that it could hold a static charge that could be set off by the costume and the flash powder reacting between the three. Don't know if the matches ignigted, they were burned but hard to say if they went off - was not really looking for that besides assuming it to be static. It's been at least 7 or 8 years since, just one of them things at the back of my mind.

    No current in the line before and no power cords near the pyro cords. It was mounted in just the track caps by way of a 10-32 screw tapped into each side and suspended into the plywood by way of screw into wood keyway. It was all a few years ago but I think I still have the pots. Powder coated outsides raw rough cast aluminum inside with the yoke mounting hole welded closed. This was the final show and we were not necessiarially cleaning pots either between uses. Wonder if it's possible that since blocking was similar every night - similar but not exact, if perhaps the build up of the dust on the walls of the pot had anything to do with it taking the static or if it was just luck and the atmosphere that one night different from others combined with a chance static charge.

    Very interesting about the static and aluminum concept, never thought of it. Thanks - should I ever be involved with more pyro as the TD over a Pyro Tech, I'll be sure to watch for such things and ensure such static drain wires are used.

    Question, how would one ground as it were the pot assuming that you would tend to want to do it with any material making it up. I assume high temp. plastic, porcelain and other materials would have similar problems with static. So would what I once heard about light fixture porcelain medium screw sockets be static prone I would assume given aluminum screw base holders. Very interesting. Squibs in plasic bags have these problems also?

    My interest is curiosity into something I have not studied much, but not in the hopes of making myself do something I should not be doing by the way. So leave out details that might make me or others think they know more than they should as if you did not already know that. Thanks very interesting.
     
  12. Crewguy7

    Crewguy7 Member

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    Hey, wemeck, for what show did this happen. I'm kinda assuming between '88 and '92, but i'm not sure.
     
  13. wemeck

    wemeck Active Member

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    Helps to log in before posting.
     

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