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How I Became A Human Torch and Survived by Charles Espenlaub


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How I Became A Human Torch and Survived by Charles Espenlaub
 

On December 5, 2009, I was buzzing around Thunderhill Raceway in the No. 19 Team MER Super Mazda MX-5 for NASA’s seventh annual 25-hour race. I was having a blast and had high hopes of defending our overall win from the previous year. World Challenge power and numerous other updates gave us one fast Mazda Miata.

 

At about the seven-hour mark, I was going into Turn 8 at approximately 105 mph when the biggest test of my life unfolded in mere seconds: My car exploded in a giant fireball. It was a test of every survival skill that I have learned to date, the culmination of all my learned instincts. Fortunately, I’m here to tell you about it.

 

read the complete article here...

https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/articles/how-i-became-human-torch-and-survived/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=How+I+Became+A+Human+Torch+and+Survived&utm_campaign=GRMDaily

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read the article, then discuss.

 

A line in that article got my attention.

Quote

Note: In particular, nothing is worn underneath the suit that can melt or is flammable.

 

Maybe TMI... I have a habit of wearing Hanes X-Temp boxer briefs. they are 100% Polyester. I believe in a fire these would simply melt to my bits and bobs. 
so most likely they are not the best to wear when fueling, or driving, or even walking pit lane doing my job. 

I assume the correct way to dress would be to wear the Nomex underwear as the bottom layer. I have been doing the racing stuff a long time, and I know I am not the only one that wears stuff under the Nomex that could melt to the body in a fire.

 

 

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I am terribly guilty of not following proper procedure on dress at my local track on practice days.  That will never ever happen again.  If this happened to me at a past practice day, I would be dead.  Sobering.  

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Not to downplay the importance of safety gear but the melting point of polyester is approx 485 degrees F. If it gets that hot inside your suit your "bits and bobs" are toast anyway. As are you. My duty uniform worn under my bunker gear is 100% polyester with no adverse effects. As long as you can get out of the car in a timely fashion you will be adequately protected. Your biggest worry should be inhalation injuries as your lungs are completely unprotected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a rotation of plain cotton shirts I wear under my nomex uppers, and plain cotton or wool lowers. I've always been told to avoid anything with screen printing on it as that will melt through in a hurry.

 

Also think about your seat! That fire-resistant foam and cover won't do much resisting if they're soaked in oil, gas and dirt you've brought in over the years. Part of why we run a Krikey- we can get replacement seat covers quick and easy if/when ours get rough.

 

What's people's thoughts on the aqueous foam systems vs dry chemical? Having seen the mess the chemical systems can make has me interested in foam for the next build. This also has me thinking about the automatic systems like they use in boats for trunk/under hood. There's been more than once on a fresh build that I was worried if that was "just some oil burning off the headers" or something more. So far so good, but race enough and it's bound to happen.

 

Also just placed an order for a 2nd pull handle on the Vintage car, the more I think about, the more I realize an outside pull on the left side might be good too (Car is RHD, with the pull and the kill switch on the far right of the dash so you can do it inside or out)

 

What's the reasoning for Champ wanting the kill switch/fire pull in the middle instead of dash area or the roll hoop near the driver door mirror? Our Supra follows this, but I always thought it would make it hard for a corner worker/safety crew if they needed to use them....

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Cotton is certainly better than polyester, as mentioned above poly will melt and the skin comes off with the poly.  Cotton doesn't melt but is not flame resistant as it will burn with a direct flame applied.  However if the cotton is burning then the suit is gone and also as mentioned things are looking pretty rough by that point.  Once the flame is removed cotton usually stops burning.  Wool is better but might be a little itchy in the nether-region whilst buckled in - probably not pleasant. 

 

In the oil and gas industry cotton is accepted to be worn underneath Nomex coveralls, poly is not and that includes underwear, this is in every safety manual I have seen.  I often tour people out in the field, you should see the look on the women's faces when I tell them as per the safety manual I have to inspect their underwear for the upcoming field trip.

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I run an AFFF system in my car for 2 reasons. It can be recharged at the track, and it will provide cooling. I also have a 2 lb Purple K extinguisher at the driver's right hand.

 

A dry chem or Halon type extinguisher works by interrupting the chemical chain reaction involved in combustion. Water works by cooling the involved materials below their ignition temperature. It takes over 1000 BTUs to turn a pound of water to steam. Foam will also aid in extinguishing a flammable liquids fire by forming a film over puddled liquid fuel (AFFF stands for aqueous film forming foam). It is not so good at spraying or running fuel fires, but nothing really is.

 

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So I wear a Momo Advanced Cool Shirt.   Its a synthetic wicking technical material.

 

 

"Note: This garment is NOT fire retardent and not rated for competition use."

 

Ummm   This sounds No Bueno.   I do wear a nomex undershirt over the cool shirt.   Is this still subject to the 485 degree rule mentioned above?   Should the nomex be against my skin to protect me, or on top to knock some heat off the cool shirt.

 

They do make nomex cool shirts, but are really pricey.    Or go back to old cotton Cool Shirt?

 

 

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I read a good article a few years ago about a NASCAR pitlane fire event that led to the fire suit requirement for ABC pit lane reporters.

https://www.espnfrontrow.com/2012/04/punchs-near-miss-led-to-safety-gear-for-espns-nascar-pit-reporters/

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5 hours ago, BoiledPeanut said:

Ummm   This sounds No Bueno.   I do wear a nomex undershirt over the cool shirt.   Is this still subject to the 485 degree rule mentioned above?   Should the nomex be against my skin to protect me, or on top to knock some heat off the cool shirt.

 

Well if it's underneath something that's fire retardant that falls under personal choice.

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