Firefighters are in Long Beach to learn the fine art of blowing things up

Firefighters from all over the state converged in Long Beach this week for three days of comprehensive training on how to play with fire.

Generally, firefighters fight fires, as the title might suggest. But on Thursday, rather than treat fire like their age-old nemesis, they reveled in the many spectacular incarnations of the feared element.

When mothers or fathers punish their kids for playing with matches, this is the sort of thing they’re trying to forestall—the specter of their children growing up and escalating their fascination with flames until they turn the world into a crimson hellscape of heat and smoke.

Thursday was the final day of “study” at the Long Beach Convention Center, much of which consisted of Powerpoint presentations and book-larnin’, rewarding the students with an unbridled, though somewhat disappointingly safe, explosive orgy of pyrotechnics and other good ways to lose a hand, keying mainly on the flammable effects used in filmmaking and celebrations, all led by fireworks guru Eric Elias, who has arranged and led pyrotechnical extravaganzas at the Hollywood Bowl for 40 years without ever once losing a bassoonist.

The demonstration, held in the convention center’s elephant lot, ran the gamut of fire’s greatest hits, from sad little safe ‘n’ sane fountains and sizzling fuses—things you can try at home—to gigantic balls of flame and a stunt man being set on fire—things you shouldn’t try anywhere under any circumstances unless you’ve passed this course allowing you to become a Motion Picture Fire Safety Officer, as accredited by Cal Fire.

A giant ball of flames was ignited in a segment of the demonstration on controlled explosions. Photo courtesy of John Robinson Photography.

Whenever a film company is shooting on location, a Fire Safety Officer needs to be on site, said Long Beach Fire Department spokesman Brian Fisk, who is also a Special Events Officer for Long Beach who works on the numerous film shoots in the city.

The Thursday demonstration, said Fisk, provided information about what sorts of chemicals provide the correct sorts of effects in filming, from the color of smoke they provide to the extent of the fireballs produced and how best to control them and ensure they’re being used in a safe manner.

Various colors of smoke were produced for use in movies or concerts, in Long Beach on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Even the simple art of staging a fake, propane-fueled campfire was demonstrated, in Long Beach, Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.