Mr. Paramedic Painter and the Blast Furnace

This was easily one of the most intense stories I’ve heard so far this month on the train.  I sat down in the seat in front of these two bilingual spanish speaking dudes who always ride the train together, I assume they work together.  One of them is Mr. Paramedic Painter (earlier in his career he was a Paramedic and since then has hopped jobs and now he custom paints automobiles).  I asked him to tell me about the craziest thing he saw as a paramedic.  This story involves a man almost burning to death so if that makes you queazy then stop right here.

He started by talking about how slow and bureaucratic the medical services were in his home country.  It could easily take over an hour to respond to an emergency via ambulance; a crazy thought but I suppose we’re spoiled here in Boston with like 10,000 hospitals downtown ready to help us out if something should ever happen.

One day they got a call about a man who had opened a furnace, “oh shit” was their response.  It wasn’t just one of your typical small at-home furnaces, but rather an industrial furnace with a door big enough to drive a VW bug through.  He thought the furnace had been off but he was incredibly wrong.  He was engulfed in the flames coming from the furnace door but was eventually able to put himself out.

They responded to the incident “incredibly fast” (about a half hour) and entered the building but could not enter the furnace room because it had not yet been cleared by the fire department who seemed to be slacking off.  Better safe than sorry I suppose because the first rule of rescue is your own safety.  If you are in danger then there’s no way you can help anyone else and you could easily become another casualty, complicating the rescue.  So the paramedics stood behind the glass within eyesight of a smouldering man who was on the floor writhing and screaming.

Eventually, they were given the clear to enter the furnace room.  No one was quite sure what to do so they lathered him in some aloe-type gel and wrapped his skin with a Saran Wrap equivalent.  The most gruesome part comes when they try to raise him off the ground.  Mr. Paramedic Painter retold the story as if it happened yesterday.  When they lifted his back off the ground, all of his skin was sticking to the cement floor.  He said that it peeled off like bubble gum.

At this point the victim couldn’t feel anything, I assume it’s because all of his neurons on his skin were destroyed after the furnace blast.  I read on the National Institute of Standards and Technology that burned skin becomes numb at 14oF and then is instantly destroyed at 162F.  Most furnaces can be well over 1500F so I’m sure this guy didn’t stand a chance once he opened the furnace door.  (good thing I didn’t look this up at work, I can just see my boss saying, “Why have you been doing Google searches for the melting point of human skin?” sounds like a tough conversation)

A few years later Mr. Paramedic Painter saw the victim walking along the beach.  It wasn’t because he recognized his face; when he arrived on the scene the victim was unrecognizable.  He recognized him because he was wearing a full body rubber suit that covered him from the tips of his toes to the top of his head with small holes for eyes and mouth.

Paramedic training will expose you to many different scenarios but it never prepares  you for experiences like this.  Mr. Paramedic wasn’t sure how long those images haunted him but they didn’t go away easily.

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