In advance, gather at least one well-inflated balloon for every two people in your group.
Form into pairs, and distribute one balloon to each partnership.
By way of demonstration, ask a volunteer to stand directly in front of you.
Place a well-inflated balloon on your chest.
Simultaneously, wrap arms around each other in a tight embrace, whereby the balloon is held firmly in place between your upper torsos.
When ready, call ‘FIRE IN THE HOLE’ and simultaneously pull each of your bodies toward the other.
Continue squeezing until the balloon finally bursts.
Now, invite all pairs to do the same with their balloon.
Collect the balloon shrapnel after every balloon has been burst.
Video Transcript for Fire In The Hole
presented by Mark Collard
We’re about to go to lunch, but we’ve got a problem. What is that problem?
(Too many balloons.)
Way too many balloons. Now already this is going to raise the anxiety level for some of you so I’ve got an ‘out’ here but let me just describe to you what’s about to occur. Can I ask for a volunteer?
So Lizzie, we’ve got a problem. We’ve got a lot of balloons we wish to get rid of. I know where you’re already headed because this is… it’s not rocket science, we can work out, but it’s a bit of fun. We’re going to apply some chemistry and some science to this.
My object here is to place this balloon between you and I, basically our upper torso. And then we’re going to apply a certain position in order to bring our bodies closer together to squeeze the life out of our balloon.
You might recall the old Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Do you remember the ACME box and there was t-handle and you have to push it down. What was the thing they would call out to everybody before they push that thing down?
(Fire in the hole.)
Fire in the hole! That was basically to warn everybody, anyone around that area of the hole that this thing was about to blow. Okay? That will be our final remark to everybody.
So we need to engage first of all. So we place this between our two bodies. We then find an appropriate position on each of our upper torsos.
Okay? Are you in a good place? You could actually go even lower. In fact I’m thinking we might need to.
We’re then going to be pressing ourselves against here and I noticed already you know the technology of doing this, away from the balloon, because it’s possible something could spray. Okay, are you good to go?
Alright, we’re going to press our bodies together on three. One. Two… Oh, we have to call “Fire in the hole”. So are you ready?
Fire in the hole! One. Two. Three.
Keep going. Keep going.
Did it get you?
Oh no. But a great demonstration of what could happen. Well done, Lizzie.
Alright. You got the idea. Now, here’s your out. If this is a distressing experience for you and maybe it is for Lizzie, you are invited to go straight to lunch which is next door.
But for those who wish to stay and have fun, it won’t matter if we have any balloons left over. That’s fine. You could also stomp on them but I invite you to go through the process of “Fire In The Hole” because this is fun.
We might have even called for some backup there where we needed a few extra people to come on in and actually help us apply that pressure.
I will tell you in advance, some of the smaller balloons are going to need some extra people because they are tough to actually burst.
So, have some fun, find a couple of partners and fire in the hole away. Go.
You might need some help. Need some help? Are you ready? Here we go.
Here we go. You need some help? Where is it? Here it is. Here we go.
You need someone to help you.
How To Play Narrative
This simple, yet explosively popular activity arose out of a natural desire to know what to do with a set of balloons at the end of a program?
You could, of course, just stand on them, or pop them with a pin. But, this quick exercise is way more fun.
First, you need a bunch of well-inflated balloons. You could just distribute a bag of balloons and ask your group to inflate them. However, consider using the balloons in a medley of activities first, such as Balloon Tag, Frantic and Boop, just to name a few.
By way of demonstration ask one person to step forward as a volunteer. Ask them to stand directly in front of you as you place a well-inflated balloon on your chest.
At this juncture, ask your (now anxious) volunteer to step in closer to you, until each of you are able to wrap your hands around the back of the other. Of course, this awkward embrace holds the balloon firmly in place between your two upper torsos.
If it’s not already obvious, you are now prepped for the climactic ending.
On your call of “FIRE IN THE HOLE” (to no-one in particular,) instruct your partner to pull your body towards theirs, while you do the same. Within moments, the pressure will build to the point that the balloon will finally burst with a massive bang.
Having demonstrated the fine motor skills involved (not!) invite the rest of your group to dispense with their balloons in a similar fashion.
All that’s left to do at the end is pick up the balloon shrapnel.
Practical Leadership Tips
Be sure to start with fully-inflated balloons. Half-inflated balloons may take a long time to burst under pressure, if at all, and that’s not fun.
In circumstances when two people are struggling to burst their balloon, I often join their embrace and, surreptitiously, burst the stubborn balloon with a finger nail. Sneaky, but still fun.
It’s not a bad idea to ask the two people engaged in an explosive embrace to turn their head and face the opposite direction to their partner. Not only does this avoid the slim chance that two heads will collide, but they will also avoid the even slimmer chance that pieces of balloon shrapnel will fly into their eyes.
Clearly, this exercise is not for the faint-hearted. On a rare occasion, an individual has fore-warned me that they do not like the sound of balloons bursting, so I happily secede to their request to leave the room for a few moments.
Given the intense nature of this exercise, consider the sequence of your activities, and how prepared your group is before introducing such a physically and mentally-charged event. There will be lots of partial to full body contact, not to mention, shrieks of anxious anticipation and delight as the balloons finally burst under pressure.
You could integrate Fire In The Hole as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of enjoying an exhilarating moment with another person.
In a small way, you could argue that the effort required to successfully work with a partner to burst the balloon requires a specific environment to have been formed in advance. Certainly, people who do not feel comfortable interacting and sharing with one another are very unlikely to engage willingly with this intimate experience. To this end, you could present this exercise and then facilitate a conversation with your group about observing, navigating and responding to certain social cues. A reflection of this type could then explore critical emotional intelligence competencies. Refer to the Reflection Tips tab to review some useful starting questions.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Fire In The Hole could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Group Event: Place two or more balloons between the pair, and continue embracing until all of the balloons have burst between them.
Back-To-Back: Standing in pairs back-to-back, place the balloons between their backs or buttocks, interlock elbows and let at it.
Folklore tells us that in the good old days, directly before a pile of explosives were to be detonated, someone was asked to holler “FIRE IN THE HOLE” in several directions to alert any people in the vicinity of the impending explosion. We’re not going to use any explosives in this next activity, but there will be a need to alert people to an impending explosion…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this exciting partner exercise:
Describe your reaction when you realised that balloons were about to burst?
What did you observe as your group responded to this exercise?
Can you give examples of how you navigated or responded to these social signals?
How did you feel when working with your partner to burst a balloon? Why?
How did your group accommodate the different needs of individual members?
What are other examples of how you, as a group, accommodate different people’s needs?
The inspiration for Fire in the Hole, and many more fun partner exercises, has been sourced from the following publication: