(ca. 1978, Indiana) My friend's father, Bob, was a volunteer fireman and a
home mechanic. He was also a heavy drinker who never seemed to be without
booze in his hand. One day I was helping him repair one of their cars. Bob,
already well into a six-pack when I arrived, believed that the fuel line
was blocked. His solution began with jacking the car up a few feet, and
draining the 12 gallons of gasoline from the tank.
In the process of disconnecting the fuel line from the tank, gasoline
spilled all over Bob, soaking his polyester shirt and flooding the floor of
the garage. Bob then used several five-gallon buckets to catch the
remaining gasoline that was pouring out of the tank. Although the garage
door was open to allow ventilation, the fumes were so thick that my friend
and I had to step outside to breathe. Bob remained laying on the garage
floor, in a pool of gasoline beneath the car.
About that time, the water heater, located about 10 feet from
gasoline-soaked Bob, kicked on. The entire floor went up in flames, and a
large fireball came out the garage door towards us. My friend and I dove to
the ground to avoid the flames.
The universal building code requires
gas-fired hot-water tanks in garages to be at least 18 inches off the
floor, to prevent accidental combustion of gasoline fumes. Since
gasoline fumes are heavy and stay near the floor, 18 inches is
considered a safe height. And it would be, under normal
circumstances. But the circumstances in this case were not
After the initial blast, Bob picked himself up and reacting as the trained
and experienced firefighter he was: he grabbed a fire extinguisher and put
out the flames. Only then did he realize that his polyester shirt had
melted to his now thoroughly burned chest. He refused his wife's assistance
and, despite his inebriated state, drove himself to the local hospital.
Bob lost most of the skin on his chest and most of the hair on his head. He
also spent several days in the burn unit, and was ultimately tossed out of
the local volunteer fire department.
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