And here is the FAQ for people with older children at PDF:
Your 18 year old has started talking about going to these "Burns", and you're not sure what to make of it. Is he going to arsonist's school? Will she come home only to hang around in airports handing out religious flyers? You wouldn't be much of a parent if you weren't concerned for your son or daughter's well being. This page is for you. The questions and answers are based on correspondence with a self-described over-protective parent.
First, a note about me, the author of this FAQ page. My name is Keith, and I'm what we call a Playa del Fuego Ranger. The PDF Rangers contribute to the event by looking out for the safety and well being of participants. We include people trained in emergency medicine as EMT's or physicians, firefighting, and conflict resolution. I'm also the father and custodial parent of a seven year old, and I am quite comfortable bringing him to Playa del Fuego events.
Before I begin, I'm going to try to explain as well as I can what a burn is, because parents sometimes worry that burns are simply drug fueled raves or some such. They aren't. I'm 32 years old, I live in the suburbs with my seven year old son, and I'm a devout Christian. I don't think I'd exactly fit in at a rave. A burn is basically a group of people who get together to create an atmosphere where we can create and celebrate different types of art, even if we aren't all particularly talented artists. Much of the way we do things is determined by what makes this work well. We are very tolerant and accepting, but we have a few guidelines by which we work.
a) No spectators. This means that everyone who comes is a participant. There are many ways to participate, and we each choose our own way of doing so. There are musicians, sculptors, and painters for example, but there are many other ways to participate as well. Personally, I participated in the last burn I attended by rangering, teaching an Aikido class, and paying for the campsites at Assateague. For the next burn I'll be rangering and teaching again, and in addition I'll be coordinating people helping to feed the other organizers and collecting food to be donated to a charity.
b) Community building. One of the biggest negative trends sociologists see in modern society is the breakdown of community. We are so wrapped up in our daily lives that we never really get to know our neighbors, or much of anyone else outside our immediate circle. Robert Putnam writes in the book "Bowling Alone":
"Television, two-career families, suburban sprawl, generational changes in values--these and other changes in American society have meant that fewer and fewer of us find that the League of Women Voters, or the United Way, or the Shriners, or the monthly bridge club, or even a Sunday picnic with friends fits the way we have come to live. Our growing social-capital deficit threatens educational performance, safe neighborhoods, equitable tax collection, democratic responsiveness, everyday honesty, and even our health and happiness."
To fight this, we emphasize the importance of community. According to Christian author Scott Peck's book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace "In community, instead of being ignored, denied, hidden, or changed, human differences are celebrated as gifts"(p.62). Defining aspects of community include Inclusivity, Commitment, and Consensus. For more on what I mean by community, check out http://interweavers.com/cohousing/differentdrum.cfm
c) Radical self expression. Basically, this just means that we aren't here to say how good or bad your art is, so go ahead and really express yourself. It's the thought that counts.
d) Radical personal responsibilty. We're all grownups here, and that means that nobody is going to go along behind you and pick up your messes. If you think something should be done, it's up to you to make it happen. I've discovered that this attitude does a lot promote people getting things done, because they know that it will do no good to complain that nobody does it.
e) Leave no trace. Because this is a camping event, respect for the environment is regarded as the full responsibility of each individual attendee. This ties in to personal responsibility
So, to the questions:
Who is the central organizer and responsible person for each of the burns?
This is one of those questions that seems simple but isn't. The basic answer is "Nobody". An equally true answer is "Everybody". Another aspect of community is summed up as follows: "... another of the essential characteristics of community is a total decentralization of authority. Remember that it is antitotalitarian. Its decisions are reached by consensus. Communities have been refered to as leaderless groups. It is more accurate, however, to say that a community is a group of all leaders. "
From a legal standpoint, the insurance for our most recent burn was purchased in the name of "Playa del Fuego" which is our incorporated non-profit.
How is the burn contracted for?
We have a person who volunteers to be the contact person for the owners of the private land the use of which we rent for the burn. That person hands the owners of the land money for rent and shows them a copy of our liability insurance.
Is there insurance? Who is liable?
Yes, there is insurance. "Who is liable?" is another of those "it seems simple but it isn't". If you're looking for someone at whom you can point if someone gets maimed for life, where to point your finger kind of depends on how they got themselves maimed. The law basically says that first and foremost a person is liable for his or her own actions and their consequences. Liability only shifts to another party when that party has done something maliciously or recklessly to cause the injury. So, if the burn is organized such that there is an easily foreseeable risk of injury; say, we build our bonfire right next to a full gas truck and we encourage everyone to gather around it, liability would be ours for any injury that occurs. But if somebody decides they want to look in the gas tank of their car and lights a match to help them see, it's on their own heads, no matter where they happen to be parked. So the answer to the question "who is liable?" is "whoever is liable."
What does the insurance cover?
Liability insurance protects us in case somebody (or their insurance company) decides that a significant amount of damage to their person was caused by the way the event was organized and sues Syndicate Communications. The insurance company we used last fall and will use in the spring covers events like rock concerts. We described the kinds of events that would be going on, and they called us an extremely low risk event.
Who is covered?
Any person who paid for a ticket to the burn while they are on VVMC property.
Is drug use overlooked at these events? Who patrols for use of illegal substances? Who's responsible if there is such use?
I'm going to treat these as one, since the second and third pretty much assume an answer of "no" for the first question. First, my personal experience: I've never seen anyone use any drug stronger than alcohol at a burn. I can think of four sets of parents off the top of my head who have no qualms whatsoever about bringing their young children to a burn, who definitely take their responsibility as parents very seriously. It is unknown what people do in privacy at PDF, but what someone does there is just that: private. This would be true even if we had teams of police officers patrolling night and day. Basically, it is not the responsibility of any burn organizer to know what each participant is doing every minute of the burn, nor is it legal for us to try. There is plenty to do and not enough people volunteering to do it as it is without trying to take individual responsibility away from people that way.
Does everyone who goes to the burn camp out there?
I've never known anyone not to camp out at a Playa del Fuego Burn.
How are these events organized?
Come to think of it, my answer to the first question and my opening statements answer this as well as I can
Is there any cult-like activity that goes on at these?
My first reaction to this question was to chuckle and say "heavens, no!" But then it occured to me that David Koresh's followers might have said the same thing, so I decided to look up an objective definition of "cult" and go from there. Much to my surprise the word "cult" is used in a lot of different ways, as can be seen at http://www.religioustolerance.org/cults.htm
However, I found a definition that fits what came into my mind when I read this question. I present it here, and I will answer for this definition. If this answer does not satisfy you, please feel free to contact me with your definition of the word and I will happily reply. http://www.xenu.net/cic/definit.html
defines a cult as a group that meets the following criteria:
It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members.
It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
It believes 'the end justifies the means' in order to solicit funds and recruit people
Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
We don't meet ANY of these criteria. We would be disgusted by any attempt at coercion of any kind. We are far from elitist. As a community, we strive to be egalitarian and accepting, the exact opposite of elitist. We have no leader or founder. We began as a few people getting together on the beach. We have no "ends" to justify, and we don't have any wealth; ticket sales are used to fund the events.
How often do people get hurt at these burns and how severe are their injuries?
How does "never" sound to you? We rangers record and archive anything significant to which we respond. The following is from the after action report submitted to the planning list after our last Burn in October.
"(I) am posting the summation of "things that happened" in no particular order... Item 4. attendee suffered a minor abrasion while building (a large dome tent). small cut on the nose when some pvc (that plastic pipe you see in modern plumbing) slipped and popped him in the face.
That's the long and the short of it. Thanks for everybody's help... it would not have worked without YOU.
Items one, two, and three concerned where people had parked there cars and a person who had vomited from drinking too much. This person was asessed by a Ranger trained in first aid, and was fine except that he felt silly the next day. That's it. Our biggest burn ever, with about thirty people spinning fire, and a bonfire at least 15 feet tall, and one person bumped his nose on a piece of plastic. I've been to three other burns as well, and nobody has ever been injured. This doesn't mean that nobody will ever be injured, or that we promise to keep anyone from doing anything that might be unsafe. It simply means that radical personal responsibility means expecting the best of everyone. I've found that people tend to live up, or down, to expectations.
Will there be police on site?
No. Why would there be?
What about fire safety?
We place a great deal of value on personal responsibility, but we also understand that accidents happen. When we have our bonfires, there is always at least one and usually two fully equipped firefighters on hand supervising the activities.
Can minors attend?
Anyone under the age of 18 MUST be accompanied by an adult over 21 who is willing to assume legal responsibility for the actions and well-being of the minor attendee. No exceptions, I.D. may be requested at the gate.
Note: I am also a PDF ranger and have been asked to look after folks that have over self medicated. no problem. As well as those who have had problems with dehydration and exhaustion. minor problem. In general we have had no major problems at PDf. As something of father figure at PDF I see a bit more than Keith but in general there are no major problems.
I like playing with fire.