Pyrotechnics Guide

This is intended as a basic guide only, you should always check every detail with your supplier, for your own safety.

Introduction

Pyrotechnics are basically inside fireworks (though a lot safer!). You can get a wide range of them each giving a different effect; glitter stars, flashes, poufs of smoke, bangs etc. It would be a good idea to talk to your supplier about what would be best, you may find a visit to Le Maitre's Web Site useful.

A word of warning pyrotechnics can be dangerous if not given the respect they demand, so break these rules at your peril!:

  • Remember that ALL pyrotechnics are potentially dangerous unless used strictly in accordance with the instructions provided and also with due regard to the nature of the immediate surroundings
  • Never store pyrotechnics anywhere other than in a cool, dry place accessible to authorised persons only, a lockable metal box (eg a cash box) is ideal
  • Never allow children to handle pyrotechnics
  • Never smoke while handling pyrotechnics
  • Never put pyrotechnics in pockets
  • Never attempt to fire a pyrotechnic from a circuit that includes any kind of dimmer, nor from a radio controlled circuit
  • Never stand directly over a pyrotechnic device, always load pyrotechnics at arms length
  • Never use home made flash boxes or control equipment, unless constructed in accordance with ABTT guidelines
  • Always ensure that the detonation circuit is dead before loading pyrotechnics into or connecting a flash pod
  • Always ensure that the person controlling the pyrotechnics has a good view of all the devices when firing
  • Always maintain the minimum safe clearance around the pyrotechnic (if in doubt as to what this is contact your supplier)
  • If in doubt, don't fire it.
That said as long as you exercise common sense, pyrotechnics are safe.

Deciding what pyrotechnics to use

The type (and size) of pyrotechnic you use will be governed by several things but most importantly; what you can get, the theatre (has a large bearing on size), the effect you want. As I said earlier it would be an idea to talk with your supplier about these (I still find myself double checking things with them).

The equipment

There are two main types of pyrotechnics; pod ones (guess where you have to put these) and wire ended ones. The only piece of equipment common to both is the control box.

The control box

You can get control boxes in many sizes (2 pyro, 4 pyro, 8 pyro and a lot more). The first step is to plug it in (it uses a 13A plug) and check that the power light comes on and the unit is unarmed (the safety key is off and/or out). Then you will need to plug each pyrotechnic onto an output (more on this latter). To fire a pyrotechnic; safety key in and/or on (this will arm the unit), select the channel (usually a press button which light up), press fire.

There are several different types of control boxes, some may not have all the safety features above and some may have more, as a rule of thumb remember it is better to be too safe than not safe enough.

Wire ended pyros

It is often just the smaller smoke and maroons (the bangs) that come wire terminated. You will need a wire to plug into your control box and which has a terminal block at the other end. The connection to the pyro is made by securing it's leads into the terminal block.

If you are using a maroon it is advisable to fire it inside a bomb tank to stop bits of pyro flying over the place. This is simply a metal box witht the pyro suspended inside and chicken wire on top. Never use a metal box which is solid on all sides.

Pod pyros

These pyros use an extra piece of equipment, the pod, but have the advantage of they can safely be fired on the stage. You can get angles pods though these are only safe for certain pyros (check with your supplier if in doubt). These pyros are however just as easy to set, place the pyro in the pod (at arms length) then connect the wire to the pod (again at arms length) then place the pyro where it is required to go off from. Then (and this must be done last for the safety of the person setting the pyro) connect it to the control box.

Other notes

It is always a good idea to have one person who's sole role is to set/trigger the pyros. He should always have the safety hey with him.

Before you even get the pyros out give a "no smoking pyros being set" call and then follow this with reminders "no smoking pyros set".

Have a metal bucket of gravel or sand to hand. If a pyrotechnic continues to burn use this to extinguish it.

If a pyro fails to fire (do not try again), remember once fired a pyro can go off at any time. Take the pyro at arms length and place it in the bucket of sand/gravel.

Pyros in this bucket should then be stored in a separate lockable metal container and handed to your supplier who should be able to safely dispose of them.

Never ignore a safety problem with pyros - I have once given a right telling off to an entire cast/backstage team because there was a few sheets of paper in the bucket.

Lastly remember if in doubt don't fire.

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