Build a Burn Club 2

How to start Our Burn Club

After that big ole expose’ on starting your own BC, it was brought up that the every day maintenance to the event might be desirable.

After our fiasco on the roof of the Culver City Ross building on 9/11/02, we started looking again.  The park across the street caught my attention, so I set about figuring out which jurisdiction it was in.  Turns out it was in Culver City, but managed by LA.  So I arranged to meet with Inspector Origel at that park.

He brought this 3 ring binder with him that was the scariest thing I’d seen as a performer.  Page after page of performers, sometimes photographed in action, sometimes their website printed out.  And lots of little notations about each one.  My page had notes on events that weren’t permitted, crashed, or closed down.  THis meant they had someone inside, undercover, and they did not elect to shut it down.  Spooky.

But the short and long of that meeting was that LA wasn’t interested in hosting a spin jam.  He did, however, suggest that I talk to Inspector Momii of the CCFD and see if I could get into his quarterly meeting.  This was the turning point for us.  These quarterly meetings were intended to get local fire departments on the same page about various fire and special effects topics.  We fit right in.

We agreed to give a demonstration of a safe performance, including what to watch out for.  In return, Momii made us his little retirement project.  He found our park.  Culver City park has a basketball court that cannot be seen from the road.  It’s the only park in LA not directly connected to a residential zone, it’s entirely surrounded by commercial properties.  It had plenty of parking and in a safe neighborhood.

With the location selected, and pretty much assured that we’d get the fire permit, he then stood up for us with the parks department and the city attorney.  The attorney wanted liability insurance, and the parks department was willing to rent us the park for standard picnic fees: $25/wk.  The fire permit was also a 2 digit yearly fee that is still embarrassingly low to this day.

So, for several years, we renewed the fire permit, dropped off an additional secured certificate at the same time, and took donations for the park fees which we paid monthly at vets park.  Then the hassle began.  Burn Club has survived 7 administrations of the CCP&R and each one has had an opinion about what we do.

The first admin change was nice, they changed the parking times around the park so that we didn’t have to issue parking passes for everyone who was attending.  The next one decided we were a “sports event” like the baseball leagues and changed our rates to $35/hour.  They get charged that rate to cover electricians who have to turn the lights on and off.  Nevermind that we weren’t using the baseball diamonds, didn’t want lights, and didn’t have them to turn on in the first place.

Each successive change got more and more hostile towards us until we were down to paying for just 1 hour with the permit running from 9-10.  Then, they switched our times to 8-9.  Well, in the summer, the sun doesn’t set until 8:45 in LA, so this wasn’t very helpful.  And I was done being shoved around and decided to go have a conversation with the new regime.

I met with Dan Jassim who heard my complaints, this story and a great deal more about our community.  He asked “has anyone approached you about becoming part of the parks department?” I honestly replied No.  He then explained that we were such a staple that we could become part of their community enrichment classes, teach fire arts, set times whenever we wanted, and instead of paying park fees, we’d get 70% of the take on all classes.

It was like winning the Lotto. But it’s not without its complications.

Fire permit – we still have to secure a permit with the fire department each april (during insurance time).  This is an annual permit, and it’s not a bad idea for whoever is running the club to have a copy (even a digital one) handy.  Our 2015 contact for this is Mike McCormick, upper floow of city hall.

Supporting Company – To host a class in CC, we need to have a corporation be the signatory.  This was right up Red Swan’s wheel house, so I volunteered it for the job.  But one specifically for the Club could be set up as well.  This corp must register with the city of Culver City as a contracting corporation.  Business license is about $100 a year and can be obtained in CC city hall.

Insured instructors – each instructor, plus the permit holder (if different) must have a liability policy with the additional insured: “The city of Culver City, it’s agents and employees” and get it to the fire and parks departments.  Coincidentally, this gives instructors the legal ability to run the park.

Quarterly arrangement of classes – starting about 2 weeks after the beginning of one quarter, Dan begins setting up stuff for the next.  New pictures, classes, wording etc must be set up.  They don’t care who does the classes [but Red Swan does], or really which classes we offer.

Continuing Fire arts – this is what Burn Club has always been.  This class is something for residents to graduate into (it’s cheaper), and is intended to provide continuing income for the P&R and us.  So far, no students.
Introductory fire arts – Teachers must commit to at least a 6 week class and have a curriculum for the arts.  So far we have offered staff, fan, poi and “circus”.  This last one being a mix of arts that could not fill an entire schedule on their own (fleshing, breathing, etc).

Payment – Classes are paid sometime near the end of the quarter.  The city takes 30% and cuts a check to Red Swan.  We take 20% of that and the rest goes to the instructor.  The 20 % has so far [almost] paid for the annual business license.  If a class has more than 1 instructor then the pay is distributed by class.  [6 weekly classes means $/6 per class taught by instructor]

Despite the hassle of dealing with the classes, it’s still better than grinding “donations” out of a bunch of flow-bo’s.  🙂



A lot of the rules are legacy from our inception.

Required – Fire permit requires us to have an insured representative and an ABC extinguisher onsite and in charge.  Red Swan prefers an approved sound system (80db or less), extra duvies, spare fuel and an ignition source.

Prohibited – Our old parks permit used to specifically list “no drums”.  Through dread experience, Red Swan Upholds this request.  She the “cartman hippie hunter” episode of south park for an explanation.  It really happened to us.

Water – it has been mentioned, from time to time, that the local foliage can get dry.  As it does, the need for onsite water for extinguishing, or pre-dampening becomes more needed.

“The fire permit requires that one of the permit holders must be present, and that fire extinguishers are available.” Covered.

“All fuel will be taken directly to the fuel area upon arrival. At the end of the night, fuel should be removed directly to your car, no stops.”  This is one of them most crucial components of the club: fuel management.

“Each fire act must have a safety spotter. Multi-performer interactive routines count as one act.” Again, this is a core value that we wanted to inject into the community.

“Each performer is expected to ensure they have their own spotter, do not assume current spotters will do it.”  Assume personal responsibility for your safety.  Too many ‘jams’ have full time spotters with people just running in and lighting up.  Bad habits.

“The first, or only spotter must stand between the fuel area and the fire act.”  Positioning of spotters is the beginning of AVP and who/what to protect.  In the case of BC, the fuel station is the first thing you protect.  Unfortunately, I don’t think most people understand the “why” of this.  See the nafaa regs for clarity.

“Spinout zone on the east side of the courts, south side, or as designated.”  I’m scared that this is still a necessary rule.  Spin zones should be a matter of common sense.

“Practice areas are on the east side of the courts and in the playground.” Okay, geography.  But another good lesson: layout your area beforehand.

“Spinout area, fuel area and east side of courts are designated non-smoking zones.”  Again, we should all be embarrassed that this is still a rule

“Photographers must secure permission to shoot from each performer, each time they light up.”  They should anyway, the park is closed and therefore does not fall under the protected public spaces act for shooting.  But this one was set up more for divas trying to avoid TMZ than about people being impolite.

“When in doubt, we follow the performers guidelines for safety.”  I never wanted to cram NAFAA down people’s throats.  This was actually a FD requirement, not our idea.  They wanted the more comprehensive set of rules there for people to rely upon for sanity.

Other unspoken rules are about community and jackassery.  We have people give the rules to people they bring for 2 reasons.  First, it’s a throwback to the old Fireplay days when people were expected to be responsible (endlessly) for the friends they brought.  Screw that.  But you should be responsible for getting them on a good start.  Second, we don’t want the person in charge to have to recite the rules 100 times a night.  That’s dull and tedious.

Similarly, if there’s a problem, we encourage people to handle it themselves.  Before BC, there was this kind of hierarchy of performers based on when they started spinning.  “Oh, I can’t tell him he’s being a dick, he started spinning a week before I did”  Balls.  Jackassery is jackassery whether it’s someone’s first time, or if they’ve been spinning for 20 years.  This ticks off some of the ole renegades, but it empowers safety in all.