October is National Fire Prevention Month. For theatre professionals, the fires at the Iroquois Theatre in 1903, and the Station nightclub one hundred years later, are cautionary tales that illuminate the work we do to keep our colleagues and audience safe. As magical as it can be for our patrons, any performance space is an environment filled with dangerous possibilities. And fire leads the list.
But luckily we have tools to mitigate the danger of fire:
- Fire curtains, fire extinguishers, sprinkler and deluge systems, flame retardant fabric and flame proofing, and emergency lighting.
- Our stage crew and house staff, trained in evacuation and what to do in case of fire.
- A good working relationship with our local fire marshal.
Keeping our tools in good working order requires regular training, maintenance, and inspection—and why would we not spend time and money to “sharpen” our tools if it means lives saved during a fire?
As we come to the end of National Fire Prevention Month, here is a basic check list to keep your fire safety tools sharp. I encourage you to modify and expand on this list to incorporate your venue’s unique safety tools and issues.
AN ANNUAL CHECK LIST FOR FIRE SAFETY
- Inspect and repair all emergency exit lights.
- Inspect all fire extinguishers and recharge as needed.
- Inspect sprinkler systems.
- Inspect all exits and assure a clear path of egress.
- Verify that all electrical outlets are in good condition (no missing faceplates or cracked receptacles).
- Test fire curtains and smoke doors. Make sure fire curtain reaches floor and dash pot slows descent in last 6 feet of descent.
- Flame test all curtains using NFPA 705 match test. Retreat as needed.
- Dispose of any unused paints or solvents that not have proper storage.
- Have a rigging safety inspection performed.
- Train your staff in fire extinguisher use and audience evacuation.
- Train your staff in First Aid, CPR, and AED use.
- Review and amend YOUR safety plan:
- Designated safety contact for your organization.
- Emergency contact numbers.
- Evacuation plan with meeting point.
- Designated treatment facility nearby.
- Review any accidents, and make sure your policy is able to prevent repeats.
Many of these inspections require licensed, specialized professionals. If needed, your local fire marshal can help you contact the right person. Scenic Solutions can also help with theatre equipment inspections and flame proofing. For secondary schools with tight budgets, USITT (the United States Institute for Theatre Technology) offers a limited number of grants for stage rigging inspections and safety training. For more details, visit www.usitt.org/rsi/.
As venue operators, school administrators, producers, and stagehands we have a vital role to play in the safety of our colleagues and patrons. Planning and prevention are our best safety tools. Take the time to make your theatre, church, or arena a healthy place where people can enjoy themselves. The public trusts our industry to provide high quality, safe events where everyone can leave with a positive experience.