Spotter workshop lesson

Purpose of this document

The following document gives a suggested structure for a spotter training session. It is intended to be used in conjunction with the Spotter Workshop Notes (“Notes”). This is intended for an experienced spotter or performer, who has already internalized many of these good practices.

General comments

There should be at least two experienced spotters/performers on hand to conduct this session—one or two more are better. This allows them to fill in gaps in each others’ comments, to spell each other during the practical training, and to provide multiple perspectives. Two are necessary to demonstrate techniques.

Advance preparation checklist

  • Read and thoroughly understand the Notes.
  • Make up printouts of the Notes to pass out.
  • Build or procure protective gear so that you can have fire near your skin safely. I made a protective gauntlet using a welder’s glove and kevlar tape and this worked well.
  • To do live-fire drills of clothing fires, have a way to brush a small amount of white gas on your clothing.
  • If you include flesh transfers in your lesson, make up a very small torch with no metal on the outside of the wicking.
  • Make sure there will be enough towels and practice-poi sets on hand for your class. For a class with N people, there should be N/2 towels and N/2 poi sets.

Step 1. Discuss the Notes

Ideally, all participants will have read the Notes before the training session. Pass around printouts of the notes. Run through all the points, giving extra emphasis to the “why” behind the practices mentioned here. Discuss the chain of command concept, that is, under normal circumstances the performer is in charge and the spotter does as requested, but when the performer is in trouble, the spotter is in charge and the performer does as requested. Discuss the importance of advance communication, and of communication in the moment.

Step 2. Demonstrate hairy situations

Two of the experienced people running the session will demonstrate each of the hairy situations, with one acting as performer and one acting as spotter. Demonstrate each slowly and so that everyone can see what’s going on. Talk your way through what you are doing, explaining how you are putting into practice the recommendations in the Notes.

Step 3. Dry runs of hairy situations

After the demonstrators are finished, the session participants should break into pairs to try out each of the hairy situations with their partners. The people running the session should critique them while they are doing this. This should take 20-30 minutes.

Optional: perform flesh transfer on session participants

While not strictly necessary to spotter training, it can be instructive to wipe down each participant’s arm with a small torch. This lets them know that incidental contact with fire isn’t very painful, and also forces some people to confront their reflexive tendency to flinch away from fire, which can obviously be a problem in a spotter.

Step 4. Live-fire drills of hairy situations

One of the people running the session will be the “target”—this person will don the protective gear, take a set of fire poi, and light up. Another session leader should be standing by to re-light the target and take over in case a real problem develops. Run through each of the hairy situations that it is practical to attempt, giving each participant two tries (or more if needed) to deal with the situation.

Don’t make this easy: it should be a realistic drill. Move around a lot, pretend to be distracted, use wicks that produce big flames.

Some situations, such as “hair on fire,” are not easy to drill on, though with some creative protective gear it would be possible. Fuel-container fires are another situation that can easily turn into a real emergency. Obviously you should not take unnecessary risks in a safety-oriented training session, and it is better to omit situations like these from your drills if you cannot conduct them safely.

Correct use of a fire extinguisher is not difficult to drill on, but can be expensive. Many fire departments offer this kind of training: you might contact your local FD to see what help they can offer.