Effectively organized Fuel Depots are essential for any fire performance and there are a number of tools that are must-haves. This article will go into the basics of what is recommended to have on hand when preparing for a fire performance.
Dip Bucket - Resealable all-metal paint cans are the best option and any with a secure metal top will work. It must be airtight so that you can remove oxygen from the fire chain reaction to stop a fire. Always seal the lid when not fueling to decrease vapors and to prevent spillage and fuel depot fires. NEVER USE GLASS CONTAINERS. If there is a fuel depot fire, glass containers cannot be quickly lidded, and can break with heat and will exacerbate the emergency. A small 1 pint paint can is also helpful when fueling props with smaller wicks or that are awkwardly shaped.
Secondary Containment Bin - This goes under your dip bucket to prevent spillage. It should be metal and able to be sealed airtight in the event of an emergency. It is recommended that a chemical label for the fuels you are using be displayed on the front of your container. You may not know the details of these chemicals in detail, but it is important that this information be referenced by the fire marshal or emergency personnel that need to know how to respond to an emergency.
A cost-effective option is a 6 gallon galvanized steel round trash can with locking lid. It is adequately designed to be able to extinguish flames inside when lidded and has enough room to fit a metal paint can, but not enough that it will tip over.
If you can afford it, your best bet is to use a large steel box with an attached hinged lid that can be easily closed in the event of an emergency. This Knaack 28 28" x 12" x 12" Hand Tool Chest is large enough to hold up to 5 gallons of fuel, as well as a dip bucket and various other equipment. Due to its welded design, it is extremely sturdy and, when closed, air-tight enough to safely snuff out any flames.
Flashlight / Headlamp - Makes fueling and finding tools easier in the dark. DO NOT USE A LIGHTER OR FLAME AS A LIGHT SOURCE.
Nitrile Gloves - These are helpful if you are fueling a lot of gear at once. Fuels are hydrocarbons and are unhealthy for you even outside of its flammable nature. Latex gloves dissolve and these will effectively protect your hands.
Wet Wipes - Even with nitrile gloves, you may get fuel on your skin. It is important to lessen skin contact from fuels as much as possible, and wet wipes are a great option until you can take a shower.
Funnel - Helpful for when you’re finished and ready to store the fuel, put it back in its original container.
Tools - Have tools such as pliers on hand to tighten/adjust gear as needed. Scissors or multi-tools are useful to trim frayed kevlar.
MSDS Sheets - These are important to have because they explain all the properties of the fuels you are using, which Fire Marshals want you to know. We suggest printing them and laminating them so you can store them with your gear at all times.
Ziplock Slider Bags - These are essential for keeping fuel from evaporating off of dipped props and for ensuring you do not accidentally "tag" anyone with fuel. They are also a great tool for if you accidentally over-dip your props and need to reclaim fuel by spinning off. Generally, you want to reduce the amount of time you soak your prop to only 1 or 2 seconds as there is no reason to soak it any longer. Over time, soaking your props for too long can degrade your wicks faster, so quick dips are usually your best bet. Be sure that the bags have slider tabs, as this will prevent them from flying off while spinning off. Never put a prop back into a bag immediately after spinning as the prop may still be hot and melt the plastic!
A fire blanket must be large enough to put out the fire equipment it’s intended for. There are a variety of types that you will see seasoned performers using, but when starting out we suggest using damp cotton towels. A fire blanket must be large enough to put out the fire equipment it’s intended for. Here are widely used options you should be familiar with:
Damp cotton towel: Towels smother flames quickly and easily, are heat resistant, durable, washable and long-lasting. Always be aware of the potential for hot steam when you open the towel after putting out a fire. Lessen this risk by wringing the towel out completely - you want it damp, not wet.
Wool and other natural fabrics: These may also be dampened to increase their effectiveness. The material must be a tight weave, heavy duty, and with no fraying edges. Big sturdy wool blankets are especially useful as an effective body-sized safety blanket for fire breathing emergencies.
Aramid fiber based blankets: There is a new fire spinning specific safety blanket called the MayDay Blanket that is an aramid/cotton blends, is inherently flame retardant, and not reliant on chemical additives - which means they can get wet and be washed, but can also be used when dry. Although slightly more expensive, MayDay Blankets are highly portable and effective.
Duvetyne: Fire marshals, event producers, and venues are familiar with duvetyne, so it can be useful to have on-hand. HOWEVER, it was designed for indoor usage in a controlled environment - it becomes permanently ineffective once wet. Just a little bit of damp grass can start this breakdown process. It also has chemicals that are hazardous when used on a person. 16 oz/yd is an acceptable weight; anything less will be ineffective.
BC FIRE EXTINGUISHER
Always have a BC extinguisher on hand for Fuel Depot emergencies. Never discharge an extinguisher at a person or a dip bucket containing fuel as it will knock it over. You should only use a fire extinguisher in an emergency if the venue is on fire or the fuel depot has spilled and been ignited.
You should be familiar with how to use the fueling gear, including how to seal the airtight metal dip cans and secondary fueling containment in the event of a fuel fire. It is best practice to always have a sealable metal container inside a larger sealable metal container.
Alternative fueling gear will make fueling funky shaped props much easier and they take many forms - metal troughs are useful for fans and s-staves and dipping columns are helpful for longer props such as swords. Even items such as turkey baster or milk steaming pitcher can be extremely helpful for reaching many types of wicks quickly and effortlessly.
There are three recommended types of fuel sold in the United States. Coleman and Crown White Gas are the most commonly used for fueling fire props and Ultra Pure Lamp Oil (UPLO) is used for fire breathing and as an additive to white gas to extend burn times.
IMPORTANT: Do not use Crown’s if you are fire eating. It has hazardous chemical additives.
Fuel should only be placed in non-sealable container for temporary fueling. For example, once you dip the sword in a dipping column or use a cup to dip your fan wicks, you should transfer the fuel back back into its the sealable metal dip can. In the event of a fueling area emergency ALL fuel must be in a quickly sealable container. All fuel containers must also be a stable design - thin cylindrical columns for fueling can quickly become top-heavy and spill if they don’t have a stable base or support.
Always return all fuel back to its original container once you have finished spinning. Always store fuels in a cool climate away in a safe location, away from children and animals. if stored for an extended period of time, occasionally ‘burp’ your white gas cans outside, as vapors will form over time and pressurize the can.
FIRST AID KIT
Always have a first aid kit on hand whenever fire spinning. It should include bandages, gauze tape, band aids, burn ointment, painkillers, and antibiotics. Be aware of a person’s sulfa allergies - certain popular burn creams such as Silvadene can cause dangerous allergic reactions for people allergic to sulfa drugs.
If you ever have any questions or are unsure about what fuel to use, or how to set up a fuel depot, contact an experienced performer for more information or send an email to Bean@pyrotechniq.org. We are here to support you in your craft. It is important to remember that you are part of a larger community and that your performance will have an impact on fire arts as a whole nationally, so please be safe, be sober, be smart.
Love and Light,
Devin S. Bean