NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 17

motivated to get involved with the
NFPA standards process. She felt that
fire dancers weren't well represented
or understood when it came to standards like NFPA 701 and NFPA 160,
Standard for the Use of Flame Effects
Before an Audience. She contacted
NFPA but learned there weren't any
open technical committee seats.
Three years later, though, she got
her chance. The NFPA 160 technical committee was in the process of
adding information on fire dancers
to the standard when a committee
member who represented the North
American Fire Arts Association died
unexpectedly. "It left the committee
without anyone who was experienced
in the fire arts," says Alexander Ing,
the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 160.
"The committee didn't want to be
making rules regulating a community
without representation." In May 2019,
Bertling was asked to fill the vacancy.
The 34-year-old Iowa native has
already made an impact. The 2021
edition of NFPA 160, which went
into effect in early April, includes a
new chapter addressing fire dancing, which Bertling was integral in
creating.
NFPA Journal recently spoke with
Bertling about her contributions to the
standard, how NFPA has influenced
her career, and her hope for the future.

How did you go from that
experience to opening your own
fire performance-based business
just a couple of years later?
It was the demand I was seeing from
people who really wanted to watch this
kind of performance, combined with
my own entrepreneurial spirit. I was
living in Iowa at the time, and I was
being asked by friends and family to

"I understood that
the intention of the
requirements was to
keep us safe. But in
certain circumstances
I felt that they were
actually making
us less safe by excluding
information specific
to the kind of work
I was doing."

come perform for birthday parties and
campouts and small gatherings or outside of bars. A lightbulb went off and I
realized, you know, we could probably
charge people money for this. So we
created a group.

How did you get into a field as
unique as fire dancing?

Did you consider it unfair in 2016
when you were told your clothing
needed to comply with NFPA 701?

It was 2004, and I was dating an engineer whose sister had just come back
from a trip to Australia. She brought
home these things they call poi, which
is Kevlar tape folded over itself to
make a wick attached to the end of a
chain. She held onto the chain while
dipping the wick into an accelerant,
and then, after removing any excess
fuel from the wick, she lit the end of it
on fire and began dancing around with
the ball of fire.
I thought that was the coolest thing
on the planet. It was just so exotic and
so unique. My boyfriend and I started
ordering materials from Australia, and
within the next two weeks I started
fabricating my own to give to all our
friends so we could all be fire dancers.

Yes. When the client contacted me
and told me what the fire marshal was
requesting, that was the first time I was
introduced to NFPA at all. I had two
weeks to comply with a standard I had
never heard of. So I picked up copies of
NFPA 701, NFPA 160, and NFPA 1126,
[Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics
Before a Proximate Audience], and I
read each of them over in their entirety.
I quickly realized our fire performance
industry was in danger. The codes were
clearly written for a different kind of
performer. NFPA 160, for example, was
really written for one who deals with
propane being used for things like
piped stage flame effects. But it was
being applied to my art form that uses
liquid flammables.

And this realization moved you to
get involved with NFPA?
One hundred percent. I understood
that the intention of the requirements
was to keep us safe. But in certain
circumstances I felt that they were
actually making us less safe by excluding information specific to the kind of
work I was doing. If I was going to continue performing, I had to make it my
mission to educate both the performers
and the fire safety officials about what
it is that we do.

Your efforts on the NFPA 160
technical committee have
resulted in a new chapter being
added to the standard on fire
dancers. Tell me more about that.
I thought the most important thing
to start off with was differentiating
between fire dancers and performers
from those using propane. We started
with first identifying what fire dancers
are, and then moved into suggesting
the clothing worn be based on the
type of performance versus requiring
everyone to wear fire-rated gear. The
goal was to provide some guidelines,
best practices, safety measures-
things like safe distances between
audience members and performers-
without limiting artists' abilities. It
will give AHJs a starting point to look
to for information on fire artists when
they need to approve a fire performance in their communities.

What was it like working on your
first NFPA standard?
It's been a very positive experience. I
think the best model codes come from
the combined influences of both those
in the technical field with technical
expertise, like fire scientists and engineers, and then the applied knowledge
from people like myself who have been
handling fire for years.

What's your hope for future?
I hope to build on these relationships
and collaborations to create a stronger,
more applicable standard. I want NFPA
160 to be the model code that is referenced across the United States to guide
best practices for both artists and AHJs
in this field.
N F PA . O R G / J O U R N A L * NFPA JOURNAL

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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Contents
NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover1
NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover2
NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 1
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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Contents
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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover3
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