By Letter to the Editor
Published October 13, 2003
Re: Hot psychology?, Oct. 5
I was both amused and amazed by the article on firewalking, the latest fad in pop psychology. The writer, Leonora LaPeter, could have chosen to educate the public but instead elected to provide free publicity for two local "firewalking instructors."
Not getting burned while firewalking is based on well-understood principles of physics and has little to do with one's mental state or beliefs. A commonly used analogy in explaining firewalking is baking a cake. Both the cake and cake pan are at the same high oven temperature. However, every baker knows that one can reach into the oven and safely touch the cake to see if it is done, but contact with the pan will instantly cause a burn. The pan is a far superior conductor of heat than the cake.
The coals that firewalkers walk on are similar to the cake in conducting heat. One can momentarily touch them, but standing on them is ill-advised. The 10-foot firewalking pit is just the right length for about two steps with each foot. If one walks briskly, the total time of contact for each foot is less than a second. However one must never run through the pit because that would drive the foot deeper into the much hotter coals below the surface, stir up hot flames against bare skin, or increase the risk of catching an ember between the toes.
The claim that only 50 out of 2-million firewalkers have gotten burned is hard to believe. If the risk is that low, why are people required to sign a release form? Since six of the 30 participants at the firewalking seminar got burned, surely the two firewalking teachers in the article must be the world's most incompetent instructors. Did the burn victims get their $100 fee refunded?