Archive for the Safety Category

Why Kevlar?

Posted in Safety, The Basics with tags , , on September 27, 2011 by jimmycush

At almost every show I have someone ask what it is that I am burning. Kids are convinced it is a marshmallow! The answer is unfortunately not a marshmallow, although they do taste better. I am using Kevlar. If you have any fire props then the odds are that you too have Kevlar. But why?

The What is Kevlar?

Kevlar is a fabric invented by Du Pont in the 1970’s. Originally it was used to replace the steel in radial tires. Today Kevlar is used in many applications including Fire performance equipment.  The type of Kevlar that is used for fire props is known as Grade 49 Kevlar. There is also a grade 29 and 149.

The makeup of Kevlar:

Kevlar is an aramid, the chemical composition of Kevlar is poly para-phenyleneterephthalamide, and it is more properly known as a para-aramid. Aramids belong to the family of nylons. Common nylons, such as nylon 6,6, do not have very good structural properties, so the para-aramid distinction is important. The aramid ring gives Kevlar thermal stability, while the para structure gives it high strength and modulus.

“The Molecular structure of Kevlar”

The reason Kevlar is used for fire equipment:

First Kevlar can be made into both a fabric and a thread. That means that you can sew together a Kevlar clothe with Kevlar thread.

Kevlar by composition is absorbent! This is a down side in other uses of Kevlar but works to the advantage in the case of fire props.  This combined with the woven threads of fabric Kevlar make it excellent for retaining the necessary fuel to perform.

Kevlar is 5 times stronger than steel by weight, which means that it will not tear when snagged or dropped on the ground between light ups.

Kevlar also does not melt, however it does start to decompose at around 900°f. I know that many of you reading this know that the heat put off from the fuel used is much hotter than 900°f. The reason the Kevlar does not quickly disintegrate is that the fuel is what is burning and it is slightly off the surface of the Kevlar. I also said “quickly disintegrate” because the heat does affect the Kevlar as well as the soot from the fuel. The soot slowly builds up and finely grades on the fabric. Look at an older piece of fire equipment and you will find the outer exposed Kevlar white and fraying. That is the Kevlar disintegrating. . If you were to take apart an old fire prop. You would find all the Kevlar inside the first layer to still be yellow and undamaged.

These properties make Kevlar an amazing fabric for fire props!


Training for fire

Posted in Safety, The Basics on September 5, 2010 by jimmycush

When watching a professional perform fire, it is often assumed that they are just born naturally good at it. That could be the case but more likely the performer has worked hard to become confident with the fire. But how does one become good with out burning him self in the process?

The answer is to start without fire. this is how i teach my students.

1. Learn the basics before trying the hard stuff. I realize it may look cooler but it is also hard and the beginning stuff make the more complicated possible.

2. Start with sock poi or fluffy poi. ( next post will talk more about those)

3. Practice with your dominant hand, then your other hand, and then backwards until you can perform the move with your eyes closed and without hitting yourself.

4. Practice with unlit poi, because the weight might be different from your sock poi.

5. Light them up and make sure to have others around you for safety and general applause.

Costuming and Fire?

Posted in Lessons, Safety, The Basics on March 14, 2010 by jimmycush

When performing your costume could make or break a character. There are things you must consider to make the costume complete. Is it the right type for the show? Is it appropriate for the audience? Is it practical for the performer? Is it safe? All of these questions make come into play when picking a costume.

The type of show could determine the type of costume, for example; during Halloween wearing demonic clothing is acceptable. To a 5 year olds birthday party it is not. Wearing pants and no shirt is fine at a pool party but not at the Christmas holiday party.

What makes a costume practical for a fire performer? When using poi you don’t want loose ends swinging about. That means no extra ribbons, chains, and even too loose of clothing. These all could get caught in the chains of the poi and end the show in a hurry. Just as if you are going to light your arms on fire while fire eating  you must have them exposed and that is not easy with long sleeves.

What is safe? I know we are talking about fire so safe is a relative word in this industry, but safe clothing is very important. Firs,t most all clothing can burn, but not all burn the same. Petroleum-based fabric (nylon and plastic based) don’t quite burn as much as they melt. This is important to note because in the case of an accident it will continue to burn the skin even after the fire is put out. The plastic heats up and can even stick to the skin. Cotton is wonderful for fire shows, like most all cloth it can burn but unlike petroleum-based fabric it burn away. When using cotton it is important to also look at the thickness of the fabric. Cotton sheer will burn very easily but denim does not. The other type of fabric is animal skin or leather. Leather looks cool and essentially does not burn because it is  animal skin. Seasoned leather is even harder to burn. The down side to leather is that is expensive and sticks when it get hot and sweaty.

For most of my shows I use cotton/denim because it is the right balance between cost and safety. The only real rule is to be safe and have fun.

Fire Breathing Safety

Posted in Fire Breathing, Safety on September 2, 2009 by jimmycush

Fire breathing is the most dangerous form of the fire arts. This is due to the effect it has on the body and the potential harm if you were to get hurt.

The worst case scenario is always death but just before that is a blow back. A blow back is when during fire breathing the fire traces back or the wind blows it back into your face and or mouth. the effects are intimidate. Third degree burns happen almost instantly. When this happens the best thing to do is close your eyes to protect them stop breathing in and put out the flame. As always you should be with another person. This person should call 911 and get you rushed to the hospital. I speak from first hand when I say that it is the most unpleasant feeling ever experienced.

Short of the worst case there are other issues to be considered. imitate possible side effects are:

Dry Mouth or Cotton Mouth- Caused by the fuel it can be taken care of by drinking plenty of fluids before, possibly during, and after a show.

Dry skin- This can have two main causes. One is having a topical allergy to the fuel used. Take note if this turns into a rash, becomes raw or is centralized to chin and mouth area, chances are you have an allergy and should not be using that brand of fuel, or fire breathing in general. The second reason is the intense heat of the fire, being in such close proximity to your face, will burn your skin in a way very similar to a low-grade sunburn. It does not hurt and liberal use of moisturizer will help this.

Singed facial hair

Nausea or stomach ache- This is caused by the accidental ingestion of a small amount of fuel, or simply from the small amount of fuel that washed down from inside your mouth to your stomach with saliva. The best treatment for this is preventive measures, such as taking a caplet of activated charcoal, drinking milk- cream- or buttermilk, eating something starchy (bread or non-fried potatoes), or taking an ant-acid before and after your fire breathing.

Some people have experienced headache, dizziness or a feeling similar to being drunk, after fire breathing- This can be the result of dehydration, in which case drinking plenty of fluids is optimal.

A dry cough is not uncommon after fire breathing. This can be from smoke inhalation or from the accidental inhalation of aspirated fuel. The best course of care for this is small baby breaths during the coughing bout. Normally it will subside within the period of a day. If it is severe or does not subside then consult a physician.

The also other Long term effects that may result :

Cancer of the mouth, throat, lungs, kidneys and liver- This is from long term exposure to carcinogenic fuels.

Gum disease as well as other dental problems such as weakened tooth enamel.

Chemical Pneumonia- which is, in simplest terms, damage to your lung tissue caused by inhalation of aspirated fluids. This can be detected within 24 hours of fire breathing from severe cough, fever, lethargy, nausea, shortness of breath and over all flu like symptoms. This can also occur over the course of time, much like a smoker’s cough.

Related to Chemical Pneumonia is Acute Respiratory Distress- This is a when your bronchial tubes close and shortness of breath occurs. Taking small baby breaths will be enough to get air into your system without promoting coughing. See a physician immediately.

Stomach ulcers.

Fuel Poisoning- This is from the ingestion of too much fuel. Symptoms of this can include diarrhea, vomiting, severe nausea, extreme dizziness, cold sweats, fever, blurred vision and the shakes.

So why would someone ever even try to breath fire? The answer is that although you can never protect your self from all the hazards some people believe that it is worth the risk. Honestly if they didn’t risk it, it would really take some of the fun out of the fire arts.

Energemata Poi does not teach fire breathing though because of the inevitable effects of fire breathing. so enjoy the show but do not try it yourself.

Safety First

Posted in Safety, The Basics on July 21, 2009 by jimmycush

They always say safety first but what does that really mean?  It means that when you do get hurt you have the safety equipment you need and you know how to use it. With the fire arts it is even more important because it can be the difference between life and death.

When ever you are using fire there are somethings you must have:


The different types are made to be used on different kinds of fire. Depending on what fuel you are using it might change the type of extinguisher you need.

Fire blanket-

These are fairly cheep and you can get them online. they are made so that they open quickly and can be put on top of something burning or wrapped around yourself during a drop and roll.

Someone else around-

It is always hard to call 911 if you are unconscious. Always have another person there. They can tell you something catches on fire and can help in the case of emergency.

Most importantly be mentally alert:

If is never safe to do anything with fire while drunk of otherwise mentally incapacitated. Most accidents could have been avoided if the person was aware of their surroundings and paying attention.

For each type of fire art there are additional fire safety measures. It is always better to be overly prepared when it comes to safety. Never slim your safety down to make it look cool to friends or audience. When ever I do a show I always start with a safety speech. I know this may seem rather boring but the show will definitely make up for it. In fact it is so important that I have a blog just for my safety speech.

I always keep a wet towel with me when using fire. Why? Because it feels a lot better then the fire blanket when wrapped around your face and can also be used to put out my fire equipment also.

What you are wearing can make all the difference when it comes to fire. Anything that is plastic based like nylon or polyester is a no go. They melt and will continue to burn even after the fire is gone. Cotton is the best way to go. True it burns but it does not melt, does not stick to the skin easily, is not expensive, is easy to find. when i do shows i often wear cotton jeans and a cotton T- shirt.

Safety Warning

Posted in Safety on July 7, 2009 by jimmycush

The Fire arts and particularly fire breathing is possibly the most dangerous and potentially injurious art to be found in circus, theatre, and street performing. Please DO NOT try ANYTHING seen on video or in pictures on this page! Experimenting with out knowledge may be fatal and the first steps should only be taken in the presence of an experienced person who fully understands the dangers.