Friday, October 9, 2009

National Fire Prevention Week - Keep Those Egress Paths Clear

I found this house right EXIT blocked, so blocked in fact, that I could not open the door.

So I went around to the outside and I found this:

I'm not sure how they got the chairs packed in there like that, but it sure was a serious violation of the Life Safety Code if I ever saw one.

NOTE to anyone working in theatres: YOU CAN'T DO THIS! It endangers everyone in the building.

National Fire Prevention Week - Reducing the Fuel Load

So, what is this you are looking at? It's costumes (some neatly bagged in plastic) hanging from a batten over the stage. This type of storage should be discouraged for a variety of reasons:
  • It contributes to the fuel load on the stage should a fire break-out.
  • If the bags and synthetic materials catch fire, or even are exposed to fire, they will melt and drip molten plastic droplets onto anyone / anything that is below them.

For more information about fire retardants in the theatre, visit the Chicago Artists Resource web site:

For more information about fire retardants for use on paper and cardboard download:

Intumescent paint is another good tool for the scene and prop shops. This paint 'chars' on the surface and prevents fire from getting to the combustible material behind it. Here are some resources for this:

The "NoBurn" web site has a great selection of videos showing the effectiveness of intumescent paints, too. Take a look at the 2003 American National Insurance Company Demonstration.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Natonal Fire Prevention Week - A look back at the Iroquois Theatre Fire

Much hasn't changed in the last 100 years - I still routinely find Fire Exits blocked, dysfunctional Fire Curtains, and flammable scenery, props, and costumes in every theatre I visit.  These were the very cause of the Iroquois Theatre fire. Think about it!
Asbestos Fire Curtain in an older theatre

For a bit of perspective, visit the following web sites a read-up on this disaster
Please, think twice before you set the stage for another disaster.

Monday, October 5, 2009

National Fire Prevention Week: October 5-9, 2009

This is the National Fire Protection Association's ( yearly awareness campaign week. Take a moment to think about your Theatre or performance venue and how you address Fire Safety issues. Here are some things to check:
  • Fire Extinguishers (When were they last inspected? Do you know how to use them?)
  • Egress Paths (Are they clear of debris?)
  • Emergency Lighting (When was it last tested?)
  • Fire Alarm Devices (Are they clearly marked and accesible?)
  • Fire Fighting Equipment (Are they inspected and accessible?)
  • Fire Curtain (Last tested? Last Inspected?)
  • Smoke Vents (LAst tested? Last Inspected?)
  • Draperies, Scenery, Costumes, and Props (Treated with Fire Retardants?)
Be safe. Test everything. Keep good records. Keep Back-up Records off-site.

National Fire Prevention Week: October 5-9, 2009

In honor of National Fire Prevention Week I thought it would be good to take a look back at one of the worst Theatre Fires that ever struck this industry. The Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago was integral in forcing the development of improved Fire Safety Codes and Building Codes. Although the facility was largely constructed from fire retardant materials, the fire started with scenery that was not fire-proof, the fire and smoke containment system failed, and many of the emergency egress routes were blocked.  In just a few moments, hundreds of people were killed.  A true tragedy in every sense of the word.

For those that are inclined to learn from the past, and sadly, realize that many theatres today suffer from EXACTLY THE SAME CONDITIONS, please read through some of the material at the following links:

Does your Fire Curtain work properly?  Does it meet all the current codes?  When was it last inspected?  When was it last tested?  Where are your records?  Where are your spare parts?  Where is the wiring diagram for the motorized hoist (if it has one)?  If you don't know the answer to any of these questions, find out!

If you need help getting this system properly designed and operating, please contact me.  Assessment of these critical Life Safety Systems is important to your staff, patrons, and performers alike.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Breaking strength of copper wire vs. steel cable - Gee, which one would you choose?

This scenery flat was found attached to a utility batten with a loop of 12 gauge stranded copper electrical wire. Copper is a soft metal that has little strength when loaded structurally. The director usually doesn't want the performers to wear hardhats during the performance, so eliminating the possibility of scenery falling on them really can work-out well for the wardrobe department.

The use of proper scenery attachment clamps, and securing flats at the bottom as well as the top can improve the safety. By attaching suspension cables both places, the flat framing is loaded in compression, rather than in tension, greatly reducing the likelihood that the flat could be pulled apart at the seams / joints should it snag on something when it is going up (flown-out).
Thread the suspension cable through this at the top of the flat.
Terminate the suspension cable at the bottom with a bracket like this.

Components shown found on Doughty Engineering web site (