If you have worked in any sort of backstage capacity you’re likely to know the term “stage blacks,” meaning the all black clothing worn by stagehands so you can’t be seen by the audience. For an event such as the Olympics, where most of the behind-the-scenes action occurs below the stage itself, blacks weren’t needed – but if there was a possibility that you might be seen by the audience, or (Heaven forbid) be caught on camera, you needed to be wearing all-white. Since I had to keep “my” tappers and fiddlers in sight when they were on the stage it was possible for the audience to see me - plus I was a backup operator for the emergency cutoff switches on the flame bars - so I was issued a set of “Olympic whites.”

Not only did this just seem downright unnatural to people like me who are used to wearing black, the outfits we were given obviously weren’t designed with pyrotechnics in mind as they were 100% synthetic. In case you don’t understand why synthetics are bad, I can give you two reasons:

  • Synthetic fabrics can melt, or even burn, if exposed to flame.
  • Synthetic fabrics can generate static electricity.
  • Neither of these scenarios is desirable when working with items that are designed to burn, and which you want to have only burn at a specific place and time.

    Fortunately our crew chief had planned ahead in case the outfits hadn’t been provided in time and had given us all a pair of white cotton “painter’s pants.” We wore those instead of the synthetic pants, and I only wore the jacket when I was on the entrance ramp doing the fire watch. If something had gone wrong and I’d had to use my extinguisher, I’d have removed the jacket first.

    Here’s a picture of me in my whites; feel free to laugh – I know I did.

    After donning the outfit, my first thought was that I looked like the guy from the SpongeTowels ad…

    …while a co-worker said it looked like what Admiral Ackbar wore in Star Wars.

    You be the judge.

    Next time, I’ll talk about the closing ceremonies and how I came to hate helium balloons.

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