There was a recent fire at a New Zealand Theatre and according to the News the fire was caused by curtains on stage catching light. This has me thinking about fire proofing and how much of the soft fabrics that we use in theatre are safe. Often you will find that theatre curtains from reputable companies like Jands have been fireretarded. But have you recently checked all your drapes etc that you are using. Do they have a tag on them stating that they have been treated, to what standard and what date they were treated? All drapes in places of public entertainment must comply with Building Code Australia (BCA) Specification C1.10. It’s your responsibility to ensure your drapes meet these specifications. For theatrical drapes, current BCA Regulations require compliance with AS 1530 Part 3 (pertaining to spread of flame and smoke developed indices) and compliance with AS 1530 Part 2 pertaining to the flammability index. Please note that fabrics used for non-curtain wall treatments now require compliance with other standards.
As we know in the industry there is a god chance that drapes may come into contact with items with high temperatures – lights, smoke machines etc., So you have to take precautions with your drapes.
So what should you look for when purchasing drapes for your venue. You need to make sure the are fire retarded,There are several different fire retarding options out there and these are:
- NFR: Not Flame Retarded
- FR: Flame Retarded
- NDFR: Non-durable Flame Retarded
- DFR: Durable Flame Retarded
- IFR: Inherently Flame Retarded
So all venue drapes should have clear labelling indicating what category of flame retardation has been applied, and what regulatory standards have been met by the use of flame retardant.
Now lets us look at these 5 types of flame retarding.
NFR – this means there is no flame resisting properties at all. Therefore not good for theatre.
FR – this indicates that the fabric is to some extent flame retardant. This could be achieved by applying chemicals during its manufacturing process. But this fabric is most likely not going to be flame retardant for its life. You are going to need to re-apply the chemical many times during the life of the material. This frequency could be around once a year.
NDFR – again it means that the fabric has been treated with chemicals. However these chemicals can be removed by getting the material wet or washing it. They can be dry-cleaned however.
DFR – fabrics with this rating offer retardation for the life of the fabric.. There are conditions that might affect this so regular testing is a good idea for these fabrics.
IFR – this type of fabric has fibres that are inherently resist the effects of fire.This is instead of being a chemical retardation process. These are great fabrics to use in the theatre environment. Especially close to lanterns or other heat sources ( Stage manager’s maybe)
Now note that these fabrics are not fireproof but fire retarded. That means they will burn, but not immediately. The slower the burn the more time to evacuate and bring the fire under control compare to fabrics that have no flame resisting properties.
So checking you fire-retardant status should become part of your regular maintenance routine. If you have no tags on your fabric that states the standard and compliance it is best to assume they are not protected and you should do something as soon as possible.
When you think about it, you should look at the venue as whole in regards to fire-proofing. Is the set fireproofed? Are the staging units fire-proofed? How about the costumes? THere is so much that at times needs looking at in regards to fire safety. I will be writing more on the topic.