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A lesson in fire safety

April 29, 2012
By KELLY VAN DE WALLE ( , Times-Republican


You'd think when you nearly burn down a business with people in it that you'd end up having a lot more running through your head, like escape plans or something. As it turns out, that's not necessarily the case.

At the time of The Incident That Was Not My Fault But Kind Of Was, I was working for a golf shop selling golf clubs, because selling firearms, kidneys or ducks at such a place wouldn't make any sense. Though, I'm pretty sure selling kidneys is illegal, even if you have a really awesome name like "Kidneys backwards 'R Us" or "Hey, Need a Kidney?" or "We Be Filterin'.'"

There are many advantages to working at a golf shop: free miniature golf at the course out back and the ability to roll cloth head covers up your hands and arms and talk to them like they are people to freak out annoying customers that bother you because they want to buy stuff.

In addition to purchasing merchandise, customers would routinely visit in need of club repair after theirs snapped in two due to failure of the club to absorb the impact of being psychotically slammed against a tree. We handled this type of stuff out of a small workshop in the back room, a place that looked like where Geppetto created Pinocchio or where elves would make Etch A Sketches. The primary repairman was named Red, which sounded suspiciously elfish. One fateful day a customer approached as I hurriedly rolled on some head covers.

"Umdo you work here?" he asked, nervously.

"What do you think, lad?" my left hand replied in a Scottish accent.

"I'd like to cut this driver down an inch. Is that something you can do?"

He was brave, this one. With Red gone, off granting wishes or whatever, I took it upon myself to aid this poor soul. I took his club and headed to the workshop. Tools hung along the walls like Christmas ornaments, though I didn't know the names of most of them. They could've been awls, wickets, flanges, bunsens or gazunders. I didn't know. Clearly, I was more than qualified to handle this.

There were two ways to accomplish the task. The smart way being to simply cut the club down, however I didn't think about that one because it had nothing to do with fire. The second way was to heat up and remove a piece of metal that had extended the club in the first place. This way sounded manlier.

I had never, technically, handled a blowtorch before, but this was a minor detail. I placed the club in a clamp, which was perched over a small pan that collected the solvent used when re-gripping clubs. I somehow figured out how to ignite the torch and for the first eight seconds, things were going great. Then everything went all Hindenburg.

A flaming piece of epoxy decided to make a break for it, right into the solvent collection tray. I should probably mention at this point that the "solvent" we used was "gasoline."

"Goodbye cruel world!" the flaming piece of epoxy seemed to declare. "And if I'm going, YOU'RE going with me!"

This really wasn't a good decision for either of us, you stupid, stupid selfish piece of epoxy.


Have you ever actually seen a fireball before? I hadn't, but that changed in a hurry as I ended the pain-free period of my afternoon.

After checking to ensure I was still alive and my face hadn't melted or anything, I made a fun discovery: the gasoline tray was still ablaze. Admittedly, for a couple of minutes I just stared at the burning tray, thinking, "Huh, this is pretty cool." Then I decided I wanted a place to work for the rest of the summer and, oh yeah, not die if at all possible. Bursting into action, I tried to remember proper fire extinguishing procedure from the Boy Scout manual I neglected to read because I was too busy building and racing wooden cars as if that would be at all applicable later in life in my career as a wooden car engineer.

My first solution was to attempt to beat the fire into submission by swatting at it with a gas-soaked towel. This was a grand success, provided you define "success" as "utter failure that actually makes the situation worse."

Of course the towel started on fire. Of course I sorta screamed like a little girl.

My second solution involved panicking (ohGodohGodohGod), which didn't have any noticeable affect on the fire but things didn't get worse this time. Progress. My third solution was dousing the blaze in the sink. Holding it aloft with the flaming towel like some kind of terrible magician, I raced to the sink and doused it in water. This was only a minor success. The room quickly began filling up with smoke, which leaked onto the main floor causing people to notice, yell and ridicule. Owners are really unsympathetic when you nearly burn their entire inventory.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, which was this: while at your job, just let other people handle the actual work.


Kelly Van De Walle is the senior creative writer for Briscoe14 Communications ( He can be reached at or via sock puppet.



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