Article author, Tara Mc Manus, is a highly skilled fire performer and licensed fire producer. Visit Tara’s GigSalad PromoKit for more information.
Fire performing is a captivating art form that can make an event unforgettable. It’s beautiful, visceral, and of course, it’s dangerous. Until recently, booking fire performers for events was unregulated and filing for a permit was confusing and oftentimes overlooked. In December of 2015, the FDNY began issuing licenses, making it easier for artists to legally perform with fire. The license is called the E-28/ E-29 Certificate of Fitness for Fire Producers and Fire Performers. This new system can help promoters book performers who uphold safety standards set by the fire performing community and comply with FDNY regulations. Now it’s easier than ever to have legal fire performances throughout the city.
How to Become a Licensed Fire Performer
Step 1: Download and read the study materials from the FDNY website.
Step 2: Take an accepted Fire Safety Course. There are currently two courses that are accepted by the FDNY: The Floasis Fire Safety Course (in-person) or the Flow Arts Institute Safety Course (online). The Floasis Safety Course is two $25 classes back-to-back totaling $50 for 4 hours.
Part one of the Floasis Safety Course covers how to safely work with fire arts and is recommended for beginners and experts. Since this course is taken in person, it involves real fire demonstrations showing how certain fuels burn and what steps to take to extinguish props, containers of fuel, and even a burning person. Once all the info and demos are covered, “fire virgins” will get an opportunity to spin a fire prop for the first time, but only if they meet a minimum requirement of time spinning the prop unlit.
Part two of the class is a lecture about indoor fire, FDNY preferences, and helpful tips for taking the test. The class is then open to a question-and-answer session with Tara Mc Manus, a licensed fire performer who helped with the FDNY research and participated in developing the content of the study materials.
Tara Mc Manus, Fire Producer and Performer, lighting up the stage at Bar Bazaar for Slingshot
Step 3: Gather up your credentials to take the FDNY test. Once you have all of your paperwork together, you can email email@example.com to schedule an appointment. You will need the following:
- A certificate from an accepted fire safety course (The Floasis or FAI)
- A letter of recommendation from an E-28 holder or relevant employer (such as a venue that permits fire performances or troupes)
- A resume detailing experience with fire performance – This can include performances at permitted venues, under an E-28 holder, for out-of-town shows, and at festivals.
- A completed application for the Certificate of Fitness (A-20 Form)
- Two forms of identification – At least one form of identification must be a government-issued photo ID.
Step 4: Go to the FDNY headquarters for an in-person interview and verbal test with an inspector from the explosives unit, then take a 20-30 multiple-choice questions, administered on a touchscreen computer. You need a score of 70% or more to pass. It costs $25 and you will receive a card once you have passed.
Once you have a Certificate of Fitness to be a performer, you will need to obtain a permit for the venue you would like to perform in.
How to Obtain a Permit to Perform at the Venue
So, a promoter or booker has contacted you to perform with fire at a venue. That’s great! But how can you tell if the venue is suitable for fire and how do you do it legally? Here are the steps:
Step 1: Get a letter of consent from the venue owner. It can be for one specific event including the performers requested, or it can cover a broader scope and allow for fire indefinitely. Do not skip this step! Permission from a third party is not sufficient for starting a fire in someone’s building. The owner absolutely needs to be notified and approve in advance. When the owner is informed of the performance details, the general manager and staff will also be aware, which will eliminate unexpected surprises when you arrive with fuel or suddenly light up a fire.
Step 2: Now that you have a line to the venue owner (whether it’s direct or through the booker), you will need some information about the venue to supply to the FDNY. Gather up the following info:
- Letter of intent – A sample letter can be found in the study materials on the FDNY website. To acquire the PDF fillable form, you must request it from the FDNY Explosives Unit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Under “Description of Effect” and “Notes,” write out a detailed explanation of your performance. In the section labeled, “Materials and Quantity,” list the props and fuels being used and how many. On the first page of the form, you will find the sections asking for “Inspection Date Requested” and “Proposed Date of Special Effect.” It’s good practice to have an inspection a few days before the event in case some changes need to be made.
- Copy of your Certificate of Fitness card – It’s good to have a scan of your E-28 or E-29 card on file.
- A copy of the venue’s CFO – The Certificate of Occupancy states how many people can occupy the space and verifies that the venue is up to code. If the venue does not have a CFO (like a warehouse rented specifically for the event), they can obtain a Temporary Place of Assembly Certificate of Operation (TPA). This document is required for public spaces holding at least people. If the event is on private property, a TPA is not necessary.
- Insurance certificate – Most fire performers carry Specialty Insurance because you can easily obtain any necessary documents. If you currently have Specialty Insurance, you can list the venue as additionally insured. When doing so, be sure to include the email address of your venue contact person in the “Additional Email” section so they receive a copy of the insurance certificate. You should also add the FDNY at 9 Metrotech to the additionally insured list and include email@example.com to the “Additional Email” section. If you use a different insurance company, such as Fractured Atlas, contact your representative to add the venue as additionally insured. If you do not currently have insurance, you can request the venue to add you to their general liability policy.
- Site plan – Though it may not be entirely necessary, it’s good for you and the FDNY to see the layout of the venue.
- Signed and notarized release forms – These will be supplied by the FDNY. All performers should sign release forms stating the FDNY will not be held liable for the performer’s actions.
- Flameproofing Certificates – If there are curtains near the performance area, they will need to be treated and certified as such. Luckily, all venues are required to have treated curtains and to keep flameproofing certificates on file.
Step 3: Send these documents to the FDNY at firstname.lastname@example.org. The most important document to include is the letter of intent, as it will put your event on their calendar. If you do not have every document right away, you can send the letter of intent first and the additional documents as you receive them.
The venue will also need to get a site inspection and monitor the show during the performance. The site inspection cost is $210 and monitoring the show will cost between $210-$420 (depending on if the performance goes past midnight). These costs should be covered by the venue.
The permit to perform at the venue can either be obtained for that specific event or it can run monthly, depending on several factors. If a venue is compliant, sets up a safe fueling area, and always hires licensed performers, the monthly permit will cost less because less monitoring is necessary.
Setup the FDNY Wants to See
It’s important to show the FDNY that you use the proper fire safety methods in your space and performances. Here are a few things to cover:
- You will need to show that the fuel is stored in a metal container labeled “Fuel Storage, No Smoking” and kept in a well-ventilated, sprinklered room.
- The FDNY wants venues to hire only licensed Fire Performers or a Fire Producer to oversee non-licensed performers. There should also be two Safeties with duvetyn blankets and C02 extinguishers on either side of the performance area.
- Ventilation is a very important factor in fire performances. Be sure to open the doors and all available windows immediately after a performance. If there’s an alarm system with air density or carbon dioxide sensors, it will need to be turned off by an appointed person at the venue prior to the performance.
- Any building with a liquor license should have an exit on either side of the building. And of course, the fire extinguishers should be up-to-date and fire exits unobstructed.
As a performer, if you have gone through all this trouble to make a venue FDNY compliant, it’s a good business practice to maintain your relationship and perform there often. When communicating with new venues, be sure to include your safety standards in your contract along with your rates and additional riders. It’s also good to explain to the managers and staff the importance of safety measures such as not smoking near the fuel, keeping windows open, and making sure fire exits clear. This will show that you’re a professional—not only talented, but also prepared.
Please share this information with any and all performers who include fire in their act. It only takes one irresponsible fire performer to make a venue cut all fire performance—or worse—cause property damage, burn down a building, or spread fire throughout an entire block. Let’s support each other and our art by using the best and safest practices.