Here’s a piece of equipment that I bring to every film shoot and yet hope I’ll never need to use: the fire extinguisher. This is usually one of the first things I pull off the truck when I’m unloading my gear (and conversely, the last thing I put away at the end of the day). If you’re going to plug in lights—or plug in anything for that matter—you really must have a fire extinguisher. With you. On the set. Film lights get hot enough to set curtains or other things on fire very quickly. And you really don’t want to burn someone’s house down to make your film or series.
It seems ridiculous to have to say this but here goes: Having the fire extinguisher in the truck is no help. So is having an expired one that won’t won’t do the job when you need it. Unload the fire extinguisher along with the lights. Keep it by the lights. I typically locate it next to the doorway nearest the lights—but not somewhere that it can get hidden behind a door. You want the thing out in the open. If people are just about tripping over the thing, it’s probably placed well.
At the beginning of each day at each location, you need to have a safety meeting so that everyone knows what risks they may encounter and how to deal with them. Typically the first thing mentioned is where the fire extinguisher and first aid kit are. Then, if there are any special risks about the location, stunts, firearms, pyrotechnics, whatever, those things also need to be mentioned at the safety meeting. Now, on a small video shoot, the “safety meeting” could very well be one guy telling the other, “The fire extinguisher is right here,” but you still need to have the meeting.
One nice side benefit with the fire extinguisher coming into the location with the first load of lights is that it—rather than making clients and location owners worry about the risk of fire, I’ve found that it really puts them at ease and makes you look like a professional who manages risks and cares about running a safe set. That’s a great intangible bonus. I’ve been on a lot of sets where the location owners would stick around very nervous about the whole shoot until they saw the fire extinguisher. Suddenly, everything’s hunky dory. You’re not going to burn their house down. Awesome! (By the way, on small shoots, I typically leave the first aid kit in the truck. Fire spreads fast; cuts and scrapes don’t. You have five minutes to go get a Band-Aid without anyone losing a finger. And while the fire extinguisher tends to make clients breathe easy, seeing the first aid kit often sets them on edge again. I’m not 100% sure why.)
This is pretty straightforward: Get a fire extinguisher. Make it an ABC-type that can handle any kind of fire. Check the expiration date occasionally. And make sure you bring it in with the lights and tell everyone where to find it. Pretty simple stuff, really. But please don’t do a shoot of any size without on.
Okay, we’ll get back to more interesting stuff in the next few posts, but you know…safety first!
Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series. Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising. The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE will release its first season in 2012. More information at: DouglasHorn.comandWhatIsDivergence.com