‘Pyro Pete’ Talks Romania

The last time we talked to “Pyro Pete” Cappadocia was more than a decade ago, after the tragic events of West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people died in The Station nightclub fire.

Pyro Pete is one of the best-known pyro experts for concert tours and we asked for his take on the tragedy in Romania. Currently, 31 people have been pronounced dead from a nightclub fire that sounds eerily familiar.

The reports say the device used was one you’d put on top of a birthday cake.

There’s a device in the U.S. called a Dream Star.  It’s flash paper that’s crushed up, which is nitrocellulose-based, and a little bit of either titanium or aluminum.  I don’t know but it’s probably aluminum because titanium is really hot, and burns gold, and aluminum is silver and doesn’t burn as hot.  You put them on birthday cakes. 

We use them here in Las Vegas for bottle service.  They put them on the VIP orders for bottles of champagne. There’s a little plastic clip where you attach the Dream Star to the bottle.  I’ve trained 12 bartenders in town on it. We have this agreement with the fire department where if this bar wants to do this service, or on cakes for high rollers and stuff like that, somebody with a pyro license has to go in and train the manager and the bartenders that are going to do it.  Only that manager and those bartenders are allowed to do it. There’s a whole procedure: they have to learn the safety aspect, they have to have a whole procession when they bring the device out. They need to have someone standing by with a fire extinguisher and there are only certain areas where they can do it.  You can do anything you want if it’s done correctly.

Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Photo taken at Romanian club of pyro launch. A

The report we have says that the pyro hit a wooden pillar from four meters away and a cigarette could have just as easily triggered the fire.

Right! It’s the same exact problem as Rhode Island, where they put up some foam for sound deadening that was not structural-rated, which means it wasn’t fireproof. It was the foam that would go inside of a road case but it looked and acted as the same foam you’d use for sound-deadening but much cheaper.  It’s the same thing with this pillar. When we build a stage prop it may be made out of Styrofoam but it needs to be encapsulated, which means the outside of it is completely sprayed and encapsulated with something that can fireproof it, whether it’s rubber or plastic or whatever.  Bar props are encapsulated foam and it costs more.

Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Photo allegedly taken at Bucharest nightclub – note foam on ceiling

Will fire marshals here in the U.S. shut down indoor pyro?

Fire departments and inspectors will look at it and hope that it’s a learning experience for Romania. They’ll say, “We’ve learned these lessons. We’ve been through this curve already.”

The problem is when you get somebody who was hurt and somebody in their family, and a lawyer connected to them, says, “This is horrible; we need to stop this practice.” Then there will be petitions to stop indoor pyro because it’s not safe. No, no, no! It is very safe. They broke 10 laws in order to make this accident happen.

The same thing in Rhode Island and the one in South America a few ago (The Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil, where a fire killed 242 and injured 630 in 2013). It made it much harder to get permits and they made it harder than it should have been – but it brought it up to standard.  Now it’s as hard to get a permit in South America as it is in Boston, New York, Las Vegas or any other major American city. In the past, you could go into South America with guns blazing and get away with whatever you could. In a lot of these European countries now it’s the same kind of thing – you just try and go in and get away with as much as you can until something horrible happens and then they start taking notice.

In Rhode Island, they had to break 20 different laws to make that tragedy happen.  And not just pyro laws. In Romania, the pyro was the catalyst, but a cigarette or a flaming drink could have set the pillar on fire.  I’m sure it will start coming out the club was over-capacity, that the emergency exits were inadequate.

The photos from the event look hauntingly familiar.

Yes, it’s almost exactly the same as Rhode Island. It was a gerb fountain effect being placed near the wrong type of foam. Again, though, we have the layers. Yes, the pyro shouldn’t have been there. There should have been a fire extinguisher, and someone who knew how to use it.  And I deal with aerial pyro, which can have tragic consequences, plus there’s consumer pyro that you can still kill yourself with, and I can’t even look at the photos of Rhode Island anymore. I did consulting after Rhode Island and, when I close my eyes, I still see the two-foot flame and nobody noticing it. That’s what gets me the most. It could have been different right there.

Anything else?

I think this will have a ripple-effect and it has to do with insurance. When Rhode Island happened, I was 3,000 miles away, driving home from another show, and the next morning my insurance doubled.  Our insurance in South America has now doubled. So I bet when we go to Europe next February with Black Sabbath, and we go back to Europe with AC/DC, guess what just went up? My insurance.