On Seattle's Proposed Fire Performance Guidelines

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The news of the day in the fire community is the debate over Seattle FD's proposed new administrative rule 3.01.05, the stated purpose of which is

"to provide guidelines to advise fire performance venues and artists of safety considerations and practices consistent with fire and life safety codes and public assembly safety concerns." At first glance, this hardly seems worthy of an uproar, and most of the guidelines are pretty typical in nature, but in need of review:

Allowable fuels-all the industry standards in the US are permitted, with the exception of Naptha, which is, in certain instances, the safest choice-SFD would do well to refer to the NAFAA guidelines.
Safety equipment, procedures and personnel requirements,
Appropriate (natural fiber) attire,
Tools in good working order,-but some have been excluded or mis-categorized
The permitting process, which requires, but does not provide permits for individuals-groups only.

 

The first problem, however, lies in the definitions in the first section.

"FIRE PERFORMANCE ART:
Any act (fire spinning, fire eating, fire dancing, etc.), in a public or private place, that utilizes fire."

The reason this definition is a problem is that a fire practice at home, in your own back yard is treated the same as a public performance in the eyes of the law, subject to permitting restrictions and fees. Not cool. I can (reluctantly) understand if the practice is being held in a public or commercial space, but private residences should rightfully be excluded from this definition. The homeowner is legally liable if something happens. That, in my opinion that is sufficient. This treatment would only stunt the development of our beautiful art form if it were adopted universally.

The second issue I'd like to address is the one that's receiving the most media:

"Fire performance artists shall be at least 18 years of age. EXCEPTION: Performers age 16 to 18 may be allowed at the discretion of the Fire Marshal’s Office with written consent from a parent or legal guardian. They must be under the direct supervision of an adult fire performance troupe leader or instructor. In addition, fire performance artists shall have valid Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Fire Performance Art Permit readily accessible at each performance. It should be recognized that audiences, especially youthful ones, may not fully understand the dangers associated with fire performance art. Every effort should be made to emphasize the safety precautions and dangers of such activity."

Under the new guidelines, an accomplished 9 year old fire performer, named Hayden, would now have to give up his beloved are for the next 7 years. Surely there must be some middle ground here. While I can appreciate the Seattle Fire Department's desire to protect the public, and I agree with the sentiment that children may not understand the "dangers associated with fire performance art," I feel that there are more just and less draconian ways of handling that risk.

The fire community may vehemently disagree with me, but I do not believe that it's a good idea for children to have free reign where fire is concerned. However, I would like to propose that it would be more fair to everyone involved if there were rules in place as to how a child is permitted to play with fire, rather than whether they may do so. To that end, I propose that the guidelines would best be amended to require a minor wishing to spin fire and their parents to have fire performance safety training. Further, the child would be required the supervision of one parent, or another trained adult (with written parental consent, just like a permission slip). The parents would be liable for any damage caused, and all other rules would apply to both adults and minors. It's simple, prudent, and responsible, and I think that's enough to put the public's mind at ease without excluding anyone from pursuing their passion.

 

How do you think the guidelines would best be amended? 

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