Johnny Storm

I was sitting on a kitchen counter at a holiday party several years ago, having a drink, grazing on snacks, and kibitzing with friends. My buddy Ron provoked me, so I jumped off the counter to get in his face. As my feet touched the linoleum, a series of thoughts whipped through my head in a split second:

  • What’s that smell?
  • I think it’s burning paper.
  • My back is awfully warm.
  • Wasn’t there a candle behind me on the counter?
  • I wonder if I’m on fire?
  • lifts arm -sees flames
  • Holy shit, I’m on fire.

A big ball of flame came rolling up from under my right arm. Simultaneously, two people shouted at me:

  • “Pete! You’re on fire!” (thanks for the bulletin)
  • “Stop drop and roll!” (slightly more helpful)

I rolled down onto my back, but fell right between the kitchen island and the refrigerator. I couldn’t roll exactly, so I wobbled from elbow to elbow several times, hoping the flame hadn’t spread. Within a couple of seconds, I was out. It happened so fast, half the people in the room barely noticed.

As I got up, I felt around my torso. No pain. Thank goodness for natural fibers. Since it was winter, I was wearing a cotton T-shirt underneath a cotton long sleeve shirt, underneath a cotton flannel (it was the 90’s—don’t judge me). The fire had burnt a sandwich-sized hole through the flannel and scorched the gray shirt underneath. I removed the flannel and looked at the hole, and for half a second, actually thought to myself, “No problem, I can fix this.” Then reason pushed the idiocy aside, and I threw it away. (Actually we threw it on the snowy front lawn, just to be sure it was “out”.)

Later that evening, as we failed to light a fire in the fireplace, some wiseass commented, “Well, we know Pete’s shirt burns.” So we retrieved it from the front yard, shoved it under the logs, and the entire thing went up very nicely.

Things I learned firsthand that evening:

  1. Natural fibers will keep you from nasty burns.
  2. Layers are good for more than just warmth.
  3. Burning cotton smells just like paper.
  4. Stop, Drop, and Roll actually works!
  5. Don’t sit near candles.

My wife later told me that she hoped I never caught fire in front of her again, because she feared she might blurt out,

“Oh no! Not again!”

And that’s the story of How I Caught Fire. Soon to be a new sitcom.

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