The idea came to me a long time ago. Why could it not be possible to do a suspension while being placed on fire? I had never seen it before in photographs nor read any such attempt in any writing. Thus was born the idea of a 'firesuspension'.
I knew the easier part of this type of suspension was actually being suspended. Being set on fire was a totally different and complicated factor. How could this be done safely not only for me but for the others around me and the property around me? Who do I know who the expertise with pyrotechnics and humans? At that time I knew no one...until I met Jake.
I met Jake through his girlfriend. He is a young, some may call him brash but I don't, young stunt professional who specializes in fire stunts. I really don't know why we clicked but we did. It took a couple of meetings before I could broach the subject of suspension and fire. When I did he was instantly open to the idea even though he himself has never been suspended. I was stunned with the acceptance of the idea. Thus what was on the back burner came to the forefront. That was back in March of 2006.
Now I had to put together a suspension team so I asked Cameron and Jared who make up the team of Homage here in Richmond if they were interested in being part of this unique type of suspension attempt. They were both excited at the opportunity and jumped at the chance to be part of something special.
I now had both elements in place and I could see what was a theory becoming a reality. Still more planning and experimenting on my part needed to take place. First off, although I've been suspended many times, I've never been set on fire before. I needed to see and more importantly, feel what that is like. Thus the next couple of steps.
First, I needed to do a straight forward Suicide Suspension. With all the suspensions I've done in the past I never had done one of those. Call it fear or whatever -I just avoided doing one. In May, Cameron and Jared hooked in me up in 2-point Suicide and I did it. I must say I really didn't like it much but I now knew I could do it regardless of how uncomfortable I was.
Next was the test burn. I needed to know what that actually felt like as I had never been set ablaze before. Jake and I made arrangements to do a burn in his backyard. That was an experience unto itself. I was stripped to my underwear in order to put on all the protective gear I had to wear. It was awesome! I was lit for about 20 seconds. Afterwards I became very quiet. Jake was worried that something was very wrong. Far from the truth. I was just digesting the experience. As soon as I was in the car I was on the phone with Jared telling him that this could absolutely be done. When I got home I contacted Cameron telling him the same thing. I'm not an animated person or one who shows their emotions but as much as I allow myself this was the time. Now the planning and preparation really began.
We needed to determine the type of rigging, hook placement, protection and so; on all of which needed to be as fire-resistant as possible. The rigging especially needed to be not of any flammable materials including the hoist and they then needed to be made heat resistant. Jake came up with the solutions for most of those issues. The cables were of steel and then wrapped in a fire-resistant cloth and soaked in ArcticFire then frozen. We then needed to predetermine the placement of the hooks so that the protective suit I would be wearing could be altered.
The protective suit I would be wearing is multi layered. It consisted of 2 layers of fire resistant pants immersed in ArcticFire, a fire resistant soapy chemical, which was then frozen. The next layer on my legs of jeans that were made burnable. For above the waist was an altered shirt of fire-resistant material had also been immersed in ArcticFire and frozen. On top of that was a blanket of the same material altered to surround the hooks and to protect any open skin. On top of that was a hoodie again made fire-resistant and frozen then the burnable hoodie as the last layer. I had frozen socks and 2 layers of gloves both frozen. To say the least I was freezing my ass off!
The final complication we ran into was finding the space to carry this off. Not only did we need a space that was private with the appropriate ceiling height and proper rafters for a standard suspension, but also it could not have a sprinkler system as the fire just might set them off. This actually took the longest time. Eventually though we found three possibilities: but as two backed out. we were down to on, a garage not far from my place. Once we got that secured I determined a "drop dead" date.
Then the night before we found out that the ceiling and rafters were wood which created an issue. We needed to make them fire-retardant. It really wasn't a big deal but it caused a one-week delay.
During the prep period and as time was getting closer I was becoming more and more filled with angst even more so than a straight up suspension. Actually, I think that feeling is normal or at least it should be. Without that feeling of fear, you are, I think, you are more apt to be more reckless and to make a serious mistake causing what could amount to serious injury and maybe worse. With fear, you or at least I myself, am apt to take it slow, ask questions and really think hard about what you are doing. That being said we now come to yesterday (8/6/06).
We were now ready. The venue was made more fire-resistant, the hoist was in place and all loose flammable materials removed. The event was planned for noon but Cameron, Jared and I got there early to make sure everything was ready. Jake, his bother Willie and a friend Rob (all of whom were going to help with the burn especially with the extinguishing portion) arrived a little late around 12:30. This just added to my own internal tension and sense of anticipation.
When they arrived, they emptied the car with all the equipment including the ice chest with the all my protective gear, all the chemicals to make me burn and of course fire extinguishers to put me out. Jake and I then had a long talk. He told me (again) exactly the sequence of events and how it was going to happen. It's not that I didn't know this already but it was a good reminder. He then went through the same spiel with Cameron and Jared so everyone was on the same page. Jake then went about and created the mixture that would make me burn. When he was done...it was time to get some hooks.
Off went my shirt then, on with the shirt that was to be burned so that the hooks could be aligned to match the holes in the protective shirts. Placement would be a little lower than the normal in order to force my torso somewhat more forward to keep the flames off the back of my neck and head even though those areas would also be insulated. Cameron and Jared did a great job getting that all accomplished. I hardly felt a thing.
It was now time to get dressed get hung and then lit.
Once I started this process there was really no turning back. I would be 'crossing the Rubicon'. Time also became critical.
All the inner layers of protection were kept frozen for a reason. Although it may be fire- resistant, it is not heat resistant so in order to retard the heat penetrating to my body, I must be as cold as possible. Speed, therefore, is then of the essence. Putting this stuff on is not a very pleasant procedure. The soaked and frozen garments are slimy, gooey and very VERY cold. As soon as you begin these cold, clammy, wet, VITAL garments onto skin, your body is shocked and stunned by the cold. You shiver and cringe. Then your body temperature starts to drop and you reach some sort of equilibrium, where it becomes more tolerable. It's much like when you are suspended when your body reaches a new balance when your skin is so distended.
After the first layer was put on then the blanket was applied around the hook areas. Then the next layer of the slimy stuff, then the throw-away jeans and finally the hoodie that would be set afire. All of this took about ten minutes.
Time again was becoming critical. Because of the outside summer temperature and my own body heat, the longer we took, the less heat resistant properties of my protective garments would work..
It was decided earlier that because the chain hoist was way too slow, it would be pre-set for the proper height. I would then stand on something, flex my knees to create the tension on my back, and then release my feet from the box. It would be removed, and I would be hanging. So there I was now standing on this box-but before I could suspend there was one more layer of protection that needed to be applied. That was this gel which was greasy and felt like gobs of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly-just thickly applied everywhere- was applied to my neck, face and my hair.
So there I was standing on this box cold and grim...and ready to go. I knew I didn't have any luxury of time. I flexed my legs, created the tension then lifted my legs. And I was hanging. I was up. The feelings that were going through my body between the cold, wet slimy and now with my full body weight on two hooks surprised me. I really wasn't in all that much pain. I was uncomfortable but not in the sense of just straight-up suspension. I guess with everything else going on my senses became really confused.
Now that I was up, Jake then applied the flammable cocktail to my back, some of my legs and some to my arms. I was within seconds of being set ablaze and was truley at the decision point to either go on or call the whole thing off. I told Jake we needed to go NOW! I heard him light the torch and he said he was starting. I couldn't feel, hear or see anything. The only I saw or heard was the flashes of cameras and I think some gasps. Seconds ticked away I still felt nothing, then I began to feel a warmth getting hotter and hotter as the heat of the flames began to penetrate all that protective layering. Heat upon heat. Hotter and hotter. Then a searing burning sensation in one small area near one of the hooks. As I starting to yell out the 'enough' order, Jake, Willie and Rob sprang into action. Within a split second I was doused with CO2 and water and I was out. It was over. We did it. We proved it could be done.
As soon as I was out, the box was placed under my feet; I stood erect and was silent. The whole room was silent then there was a burst of applause, yelling and shouting. What they were saying I really don't have a clue.
Then came the stripping away of all those layers and when that was over I needed to towel myself off, remove all that goo and gel before I could put back on my street clothes. I was a mess and of great need of a nice long shower. Meanwhile the room was abuzz: if people were not cleaning up, they were reviewing photos. I saw the video which is far more graphic and intense than any of the still photos I've seen so far.
This was the most intense suspension I've ever done. Some have said that this was a 'first'. I don't know. I can't find any references to it. Regardless, this was a 'first' for me and the team. That is what is most important that we proved to ourselves that we could pull it off. The event went so smoothly and without incident I was amazed. No one got hurt, no damage was done. So much could have gone wrong but I believe because of the planning, preparation and expertise, but most importantly the teamwork between everyone allowed this firesuspension to become reality. Every member of the team congratulated me and thanked me for allowing them to be a part of this event. I think...quite the opposite. They need to be thanked for all their professionalism, hard wor and dedication to this project. I just hung there. It is they who need the applause not me. Cameron, Jake, Jared, Willie and Rob are the ones who get all my kudos and admiration.
Will I do this again? We'll see. We did find a few minor flaws that can easily be corrected and I would wait to do it in cooler weather as the hot summer temperature was a factor. I would use the same team most definitely but maybe find a taller space.
In closing I just want to say and warn for anyone who wants to do this type of suspension that it is very intense and very dangerous. It took months of planning and preparation. It took experts in two areas to pull this off, both in suspensions and fire. Teamwork is paramount. Egos need to be left at the door. It wasn't easy. I'm not saying don't try it, but be careful and don't cut corners. Someone could really get hurt or worse. I did have a hell of a time and it was great fun!
BME ModBlog: Firesuspension? Suicidefire?
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 10 Aug. 2006