(9 April 1983, California) Every once in a while, one has the privilege to
witness a potential Darwinian event. One such opportunity happened to me
and my wife many years ago, in Van Nuys.
The hero, our apartment manager, was having car problems. The vehicle was
suffering from fuel starvation under high loads (like hill climbing.) He
replaced the carburetor, fuel pump, fuel filter, and had a tune-up, all to
no avail. Knowing that I was mechanically inclined, he asked what I thought
the problem might be. I suggested that it was probably the filter screen
located in the fuel tank.
Removing this screen meant that he would need to drain the tank, so our
hero drove his vehicle until barely any fuel was left. But the night before
the attempt to clean the filter was to take place, his dear and thoughtful
wife used the car for a trip to the store. She noticed that the fuel gauge
was on empty, she did her husband a favor, and filled the tank with 20-plus
gallons of gas.
At 6:00am on Saturday, I awoke to the stench of gasoline fumes wafting
through our open windows. Our townhouse apartments, six units, were perched
over open carports. Remembering that our hero was planning to look into the
afore-mentioned fuel screen problem, I dressed and went downstairs to see
what was going on.
Upon determining what was happening, the very next action I took was to run
back upstairs and roust my wife and 18-month-old daughter from bed,
insisting that we needed to vacate the building NOW! After seeing to the
safety of my family, I went back to the carport to offer some advice.
The situation that caused me such alarm was this: Our hero, who was working
under his vehicle, did not know that his wife (ho was observing the repair)
had filled the tank. So when he removed the drain plug from the gas tank,
he didn't have enough old milk jugs on hand to catch the fuel. There he
was, just letting it run out of the tank onto himself and onto the ground.
There was a breeze blowing towards the carport opening, effectively
trapping and concentrating the rapidly increasing fumes. In a corner of the
carport stood an electronic-ignition water heater. Observing this, and
having a vision of the buildings disappearing in a great fireball, I
suggested that he might wish to shut off power to the hot water heater. His
initial response was, "Why?" I pointed out the high probability that when
the water heater fired up, it would ignite more than the natural gas.
A great many emotions crossed what little of his face I could see beneath
the car. The final expression was one of great panic. He yelled to his wife
to go get the keys for the circuit box as he scrambled from under the
car. She asked why, even though she had been part of the conversation!
Finally, the light dawned, and she hurried to get the keys.
Our hero shut off the water heater circuits and, amazingly, climbed back
under the car to continue to wait for the tank to drain! I was stunned
to see him, seemingly without a care in the world, lie back down in the
expanding pool of fuel! Not able to stand it anymore, I pushed my car out
of the carport -- he actually asked why I wasn't starting the car -- and
whisked my wife and daughter to a nearby park to wait things out.
Three hours later, we returned to find our hero finishing his repairs. I
suggested that he should take a shower and wash off the gasoline, and we
departed. We did not see him for the rest of the day.
The next morning, as we were leaving for church, I noticed that he was out
and about his business, but moving very slowly, as if in great pain. The
exposed skin of his arms and legs was quite red. I asked how he was
doing. His answer astounded me.
Since he had already 'soiled' a set of work clothes, he saw no sense in
either showering or changing his clothes for the rest of the day. He
finally decided to take a shower on Saturday afternoon, when he noticed his
skin was beginning to itch and tingle. By Sunday morning, he was in great
pain, and was able to wear clothing only with great difficulty.
He and his wife went to the emergency room very early in the morning, and
the doctor told him that he was fortunate to be suffering 'only' the
equivalent of first-degree burns over most of his body. Had he waited much
longer to change his clothes and shower, he would have been hospitalized
from his long contact with gasoline.
I thought this man might be worthy of an At-Risk Survivor. At the very
least, his was a Darwinian Effort. By the way, the problem with his car was
Moderator Bert said, "I hope you moved when your lease was up!"
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Submitted by: Stephen Burton