Flame Testing

Are your stage curtains safe? Stage curtains should be flame tested annually to make sure they meet NFPA 705 standards. BellaTEX, Inc. offers free NFPA 705 testing by mail and a full range of NFPA 701 testing packages are available for a fee.

NFPA 701 Small Scale was abolished in 1989 but some confusion still persists in the entertainment industry.  The following paragraphs give an explanation of NFPA 701 and NFPA 705 with a brief overview of the current field test procedure at the bottom.

We highly recommend you read the entire page for a better understanding of stage curtain testing.  Before conducting any test we strongly recommend you obtain, read, and understand the actual NFPA 705 document. Contact your local BellaTEX dealer to test your curtains for you; typically there is no charge for this service. BellaTEX, Inc. offers free NFPA 705 testing by mail and a full range of NFPA 701 testing packages are available for a fee.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has established methods for testing fire propagation in hanging fabrics such as stage curtains.   Article 701 defines procedures for two laboratory tests.  “Method 1” applies to most stage fabrics weighing 21 oz per square yard or less (as actually weighed, not as manufacturer advertised). “Method 2” is for all vinyl backed fabrics and fabrics weighing over 21oz per square yard.  701 tests are very exacting laboratory tests that require strict adherence to precise laboratory procedures, special testing jigs, specific pre-test conditioning and a statistical analysis of the results.  701 tests yield the most accurate and most reliable results.  New stage curtains should only be constructed from fabrics with acceptable NFPA 701 test results.

Prior to 1989, article 701 contained a “large scale” laboratory test and a “small scale” field test method.  Field tests, by their very nature, yield less consistent and less accurate results.  The pre-1989 article was frequently misinterpreted to mean either method was acceptable.  To improve the standard, 701 was revised into “Method 1” & “Method 2” and the “small scale” test procedure was removed.

The need for a field test procedure still existed, (a poor test is better than no test at all) so article 705 was created.  705 is a destructive test, like 701, but it is much simpler to conduct and more procedural latitude is given to allow for varying field conditions.
It is common for people to mistakenly refer to “701 small scale” rather than the current 705 standard.  While the actual test procedures are very similar, 705 does a much better job of clarifying the limitations of the field test.

Theater curtains should be tested annually to verify they meet NFPA 705 standards. If any samples fail or produce questionable results, the curtains should be removed or a 701 test should be performed.

In many cases a 701 test is simply not a viable option.  It requires 10 fabric specimens 150mm X 400mm (5.90” X 15.80”). Specimens must taken throughout the curtain and must not be taken from, or near, a selvage edge. If the first 10 specimens yield inconsistent results, a second set of 10 specimens may be required.  The amount of damage done to the curtain by removing this many specimens can be impractical to repair. In cases where the curtain has historical significance, is very large or ornate, and there is a reasonable belief the specimens will pass, it may be a consideration. (BellaTEX offers complete 701 testing and repair services and we are happy to discuss your specific project.)

NFPA 701 and NFPA 705 are copywriter documents and thus cannot be distributed here. They can be purchased directly from the NFPA.org website for a small fee.  With a free account you can read the documents on their site.  Before testing, you should read and understand the entire NFPA 705 standard.

In brief, NFPA 705 makes clear that the field test is an exclusionary test.  In other words, it does not confirm that the materials are safe or that they will pass a 701 test, however, it can demonstrate that they will not.  A material that fails a 705 test will, without a doubt, fail a 701 test and clearly possess unacceptable flame propagation properties.  A passed 705 test indicates very little as items that do not burn under 705 conditions may burn under 701 conditions or in an actual fire.

The 705 test procedure, in a nutshell, is:
1) Remove a suitable sample of the material to be tested, 1/2” X 4” or greater.
2) In a safe location with no draft, expose the sample to a flame from a common kitchen match, or other similar source, for 12 seconds.
3) Remove the flame. The sample should self extinguish within 2 seconds, less than 4” of sample should have been consumed, and drippy fireballs, if any, should self extinguish upon or before contact with the ground.

If you are unsure about the flame retardancy of any of your stage curtains, or it has been more than 12 months since they were last tested, call us and we will arrange for one of our professional local dealers to stop by.  They can test and evaluate your curtains for you and update the labels to reflect the new test date.  In most cases there is no charge for this service.