Event Safety: Avoiding Issues with the Fire Marshal

You’ve planned an event, the audiovisual company is set up, the tables and chairs have been dropped—and the fire marshal walks in and throws a monkey wrench into the whole program. Believe it or not, the marshal does show up, and more often than you might realize. He’s not interested in whether your setup looks great or not. He’s interested in event safety and whether or not a session can safely take place. With a little due diligence, you can avoid problems with the fire marshal. Exits: Make sure all exits are clearly visible. Depending on room size and seating capacity, the fire marshal might require exits behind the stage and technical areas to be accessible. A fire marshal might even require planner place personnel at exits to assist in the event of an emergency. Aisleways: Aisles need to be clear and unobstructed. Required widths of aisles will vary depending on crowd size and the location of exits. Usually facility officials know what the fire marshal requires for aisle-width dimensions. Trip Hazards: You might think trip hazards are things in the way of walkways or exits. But trip hazards also can be considered anything that could end up in walkways. Fire marshals may require chairs to be tied or fixed together, preventing them from being moved into areas where they would be in the way in an emergency. Fireproofing: A fire marshal might require that an AV company provide proof that drapery and other scenic material have been fireproofed. Most professional drapery has a tag sewn in. But other custom-made scenery might be an issue if it’s located near lights or other heat sources. Also, anything hung over people’s heads must have a steel safety wire. Fog Machines and Fire Alarms: AV companies and lighting designers like to use fog machines and hazers because they make light beams visible, which creates a nice effect. But these devices wreak havoc on smoke detectors. Using fog machines must be approved in advance so smoke alarms and fire detectors can be disabled. But in order to do that, at least one person (sometimes more) has to be hired to stand guard and manually trip fire alarms in the event of a fire. This is usually the case any time smoke detectors are disabled, even for rehearsals and when focusing lights. Pyrotechnics: Simply put, if you have any kind of fireworks during an event, don’t mess around. Call the fire marshal’s office at the very beginning of planning. Tell the marshal everything you’re planning to do and get approval for it.