Artists Resource for Fire


If you hang around the fire or pyrotechnic community, you might occasionally come across terms and you may not quite understand what they mean. This is an attempt to define some common terms used in the industry.

This information is for informational purposes only. As with any issue involving fire, please check with your local Fire Marshal before using this information for a show.

Aerial Shell
This is usually a cylindrical or spherical cartridge containing pyrotechnic material. Although they can be other shapes as well. A shell will have a long fuse or electric match wires, and a black powder lift charge. The shells smaller than 2" are considered consumer fireworks (1.4g). Shells larger than 3" are considered Class B (1.3g).
A pyrotechnic device that is suspended in the air to simulate outdoor aerial fireworks shells. These lack a launch tube or a lifting charge.
Acceptable to the Authority Having Jurisdiction. As an example, if you have been granted a fire permit, you have been approved by the Fire Marshal.
Anyone that works under the supervision of the pyrotechnic operator.
The people watching the show. An audience is considered spectators whose primary purpose is to view a performance.
Authority Having Jurisdiction
The organization, office, or individual responsible for approving equipment, an installation, or a procedure. As an example, the Fire Marshal could be the Authority Having Jurisidiction for approving a fire show. Also referred to as the AHJ.
Autoignition Temperature
The minimum temperature that will cause a substance automatically ignite. An example is kerosene. If the temperature of the surrounding metal is above 410° F (210° C), any kerosene present will ignite.
Binary System
A two-component pyrotechnic system where the pyrotechnic material is broken down into two separate containers. One is the oxidizer and one is the fuel. The ingredients cannot burn or explode until they are mixed together. This makes binaries safer to store and handle. Also known as a binary explosive or binary materials.
Black Powder
A low explosive consisting of an intimate mixture of potassium or sodium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. Commonly associated with muzzle loading weapons such as a musket or cannon.
An acronym which stands for Boiling Liquid Evaporated Vapor Explosion. This is one of the most hazardous explosive conditions that can arise.
A pellet of pyrotechnic material that is ignited and propelled from a mortar tube by a charge of black powder. Comets frequently leave a trail of sparks as they rise in the air, and they sometimes burst into smaller fragments at their zenith.
Concussion Effect
A pyrotechnic effect that produces a loud noise and a violent jarring shock for dramatic effect. A very powerful example would be a concussion grenade.
Concussion Mortar
A device specifically designed and constructed to produce a loud noise and a violent jarring shock for dramatic effect without producing any damage.
Consumer Fireworks (formerly known as "Common Fireworks")
Any small fireworks device designed primarily to produce visible effects by combustion that complies with the construction, chemical composition, and labeling regulations of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, as set forth in Title 16, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 1500 and 1507. Some small devices designed to produce audible effects are included, such as whistling devices, ground devices containing 50 mg (0.8 grains) or less of explosive composition (salute powder), and aerial devices containing 130 mg (2 grains) or less of explosive composition (salute powder) per explosive unit. Consumer fireworks are classed as Explosives 1.4G and described as Fireworks UN0336 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Electric Match
A device containing a small amount of pyrotechnic material with two electric wire leads that ignites when a specified electric current flows through the leads. An electric match is used to initiate pyrotechnics. Electric matches are often incorrectly called squibs
Fallout Area
The area in which any hazardous debris falls after a pyrotechnic device is fired. The fallout area is defined as a circle that, in turn, is defined by the fallout radius.
Fallout Radius
A line that defines the fallout area of a pyrotechnic device. The line is defined by two points. The first point is at the center of a pyrotechnic device. The second point is the point most distant from the center of the pyrotechnic device at which any hazardous debris from the device can fall.
Fire (v.)
To ignite pyrotechnics by using an electric match, electrical current, or some other means.
Fire Fingers
A device which attaches to individual fingers either made of wire or integrated onto a glove. Each finger will have a wick at the end which is soaked with a combustible fuel such as alcohol, kerosene, paraffin or stove fuel.
Firing System
The source of ignition for pyrotechnics. In an electrical system, it is the source of electric current used to initiate electric matches or other devices. Generally, the electrical firing system has components, such as a primary key switch, test circuits, warning indicators, cables, isolation transformers, and switches to control the routing of the current to various pyrotechnics.
Fixed Production
Any production performed repeatedly in only one geographic location.
A pyrotechnic device designed to produce a single source of intense light for a defined period of time.
Flash Pot
A device used with flashpowder that produces a flash of light and is capable of directing the flash in an upward direction.
A specific pyrotechnic material in powder form composed of fuel(s) and oxidizer(s). Ignition produces a flash of light, sparkles, an audible report, or a combination of these effects.
In pyrotechnics, anything combustible or acting as a chemical reducing agent such as, but not limited to, sulfur; aluminum powder; iron powder; charcoal; magnesium; gums; and organic plastic binders. Fuels are an ingredient of pyrotechnic materials.
A cylindrical preload intended to produce a controlled spray of sparks with a reproducible and predictable duration, height, and diameter. Hazardous Debris. Any debris, produced or expelled by the functioning of a pyrotechnic device, that is capable of causing personal injury or unpredicted property damage. This includes, but is not limited to, hot sparks, heavy casing fragments, and unignited components. Materials such as confetti, lightweight foam pieces, feathers, or novelties, are not to be construed as hazardous debris.
Any device used to hold a pyrotechnic device other than a mortar. The purpose of a holder is to maintain the position of a pyrotechnic device. Holders hold preloads, which are self-contained. A holder is not to be construed to be a mortar.
An electrical, chemical, or mechanical device normally used to fire pyrotechnics.
A chemical used to create a pyrotechnic material. Such a chemical is not itself a pyrotechnic material.
Integral Mortar
A preloaded mortar containing pyrotechnic materials and intended for a single firing only.
Isolated Power Supply
An ungrounded power supply that provides electricity, in which both output wires are isolated from ground. An isolated power supply can be an ungrounded generator, an ungrounded dc-to-ac converter, or commercial power supplied through an isolation transformer.
Equipment or materials to which has been attached a label, symbol, or other identifying mark of an organization that is acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and concerned with product evaluation that maintains periodic inspection of production of labeled equipment or materials and by whose labeling the manufacturer indicates compliance with appropriate standards or performance in a specified manner.
Lift Charge
The composition in a pyrotechnic device that propels (lifts) the effect into the air when ignited. It usually consists of a black powder charge.
Equipment, materials, or services included in a list published by an organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and concerned with evaluation of products or services that maintains periodic inspection of production of listed equipment or materials or periodic evaluation of services and whose listing states either that the equipment, material, or service meets identified standards or has been tested and found suitable for a specified purpose.
Any building, structure, or indoor container used exclusively for the storage of explosive materials as defined in NFPA 495, Explosive Materials Code.
An individual who performs the following:
  1. Prepares any pyrotechnic material
  2. Loads or assembles any pyrotechnic device.

Exception No. 1: In the case of binary systems, the supplier of preweighed or premeasured ingredients, not the person mixing the ingredients, is considered the manufacturer of any pyrotechnic materials created from binary components.

Exception No. 2: The person loading binary materials into devices supplied by the manufacturer of binary systems is not considered a manufacturer where such loading is performed in accordance with the instructions of the manufacturer.

NOTE: A federal explosives manufacturer's license (ATF) is required where a binary system is used and the components are mixed in the course of a trade or business to create an explosive material.
A pyrotechnic device, usually a preload, that projects multiple pellets of pyrotechnic material that produce sparks or flame. It is usually supplied with an integral mortar.
A tube or a pot-like device used to direct and control the effect of the pyrotechnic material.
Usually an oxygen-rich, ionically bonded chemical that decomposes at moderate to high temperatures. Where such a chemical decomposes, it releases oxygen. In addition to ionic solids, an oxidizer can be a material having covalent molecules containing halogen atoms. An oxidizer is an ingredient of pyrotechnic materials.
The enactment of a musical, dramatic, operatic, or other entertainment production. The enactment begins and progresses to its end according to a script, plan, or other preconceived list of events. A performance can include encores.
Any person active in a performance during which pyrotechnics are used and who is not part of the audience or support personnel. Among others, performers can include, but are not limited to, actors, singers, musicians, and acrobats.
The person or persons who are responsible for obtaining the necessary permits for a production. The permittee can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The pyrotechnic operator is not necessarily the permittee. Preload. A pyrotechnic device supplied by the manufacturer in a ready-to-use condition.
An individual who has overall responsibility for the operation and management of the performance where the pyrotechnics are to be used. Generally, the producer is an employee of the promotion company, entertainment company, festival, theme park, or other entertainment group.
All the performances of a musical, dramatic, operatic, or other series of shows. There are two types of productions: fixed and touring. Proximate Audience. An audience closer to pyrotechnic devices than permitted by NFPA 1123, Code for Fireworks Display.
Pyrotechnic Device
Any device containing pyrotechnic materials and capable of producing a special effect as defined in this standard.
Pyrotechnic Material (Pyrotechnic Special Effects Material)
A chemical mixture used in the entertainment industry to produce visible or audible effects by combustion, deflagration, or detonation. Such a chemical mixture consists predominantly of solids capable of producing a controlled, self-sustaining, and self-contained exothermic chemical reaction that results in heat, gas, sound, light, or a combination of these effects. The chemical reaction functions without external oxygen.
Pyrotechnic Operator (Special Effects Operator)
An individual who has responsibility for pyrotechnic safety and who controls, initiates, or otherwise creates special effects. The operator is also responsible for storing, setting up, and removing pyrotechnic materials and devices after a performance.
Pyrotechnic Special Effect
A special effect created through the use of pyrotechnic materials and devices. (Also see Special Effect.)
Controlled exothermic chemical reactions that are timed to create the effects of heat, gas, sound, dispersion of aerosols, emission of visible electromagnetic radiation, or a combination of these effects to provide the maximum effect from the least volume.
A practice performance during which no audience is present.
A pyrotechnic device that moves by the ejection of matter produced by the internal combustion of propellants.
A pyrotechnic device consisting of a tube that rotates around a pivot point to produce a circular shower of sparks.
Indicates a mandatory requirement.
Indicates a recommendation or that which is advised but not required.
Special Effect
A visual or audible effect used for entertainment purposes, often produced to create an illusion. For example, smoke might be produced to create the impression of fog being present, or a puff of smoke, a flash of light, and a loud sound might be produced to create the impression that a cannon has been fired.
Support Personnel
Any individual who is not a performer or member of the audience. Among others, support personnel include the road crew of any production, stage hands, property masters, security guards, fire watch officers, janitors, or any other employee.
Touring Production
Any production performed in more than one geographic location.
Venue Manager
An individual who has overall responsibility for the operation and management of the facility where pyrotechnics are to be used in a performance.
Waterfall, Falls, Park Curtain
An effect of a cascade of sparks that usually are produced by multiple devices fired simultaneously.
A pyrotechnic device that rotates on a central axis consisting of multiple gerbs or rockets attached to a framework.

Written by Wally Glenn
Edited by Neil Carlberg, Maque Da Vis' and Daniel Walsh.

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The information on this Web site is for informational pourposes only. Nothing should be attempted without first consulting your local Fire Marshal or the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in your area. Some of the activities described may be illegal in your area and in no way should you attempt any activity without the expressed consent of the AHJ.