The school year was coming to an end and we freshmen had mastered the art of all tasks set before us. Mr. Jackson, our mentor, teacher, hero, and sometimes friend, had taught us well the arts of wood work, lawnmower repair, welding, and a thing or two about electricity. It was just another day to kill as the academic year came to a close for the summer.
That was until Bobby set himself on fire. The excitement meter took a noticeable tick upwards when someone noticed the smell of burning cotton and flesh. The odd thing was that Bobby was completely engrossed in his mission. He was sitting on the very top step, which we had been taught was no step at all, of a 10-foot step ladder with his arms entangled in roofing rebar while welding something. We never knew what he was welding.
With the right sleeve of his new FFA (Future Farmers of America) jacket ablaze, he continued to weld. We talked it over for a few minutes. Should we tell him or let him figure it out? After a moment in a high-level conference, we decided to tell him. Bobby is on fire; we are silently watching and nobody has said a word. These are the moments in life that a camera would have come in handy.
All at once the entire class began screaming at Bobby. A cacophony of 9th grade voices erupted without a single intelligible word to be heard. Without looking up, and with full attention to whatever he was welding, Bobby began to scream back! Something about a scream muffled behind a welding mask that leaves a humorous, non-descript, kind of noise.
We screamed louder and so did Bobby. About the time we began to smell burning flesh Bobby caught on to the urgency of the situation. He lifted the welding helmet and began flapping his burning arm like he was trying to take flight! At this moment someone said something about stop drop and roll. Did I mention he was sitting 10 feet from a concrete floor?
With Bobby flapping a burning wing 10 feet above us, I thought of the fire extinguisher. We had learned all about the tools in the shop. I knew about the drill press, the names of all the hand tools and how to use them. We could all rip a board, weld a bead, and start a dead mower. But nobody taught us how to use a fire extinguisher.
As I fumbled with the fire extinguisher, that seemed to be permanently attached to the concrete block wall, I saw some instructions. At this point Bobby is on fire, half the class is laughing, for the first time in my life I read the instructions.
By this time, the right sleeve on the FFA jacket is toast; burned toast. Bobby realizes the flapping is only making things worse and begins to try to get off the ladder. Just as he gets into position to descend the ladder, or take full flight, I pull the pin on the fire extinguisher. It never occurred to me that the proximity of the extinguisher to the fire is an important factor. Running across the shop with the extinguisher spewing a white cloud of gray-white fire putter-outter, I finally made it to Bobby. Now I could have used less than the full charge in the extinguisher … But why would I?
With a class of 9th-grade boys covered in fire putter-outter, Bobby lying in a scorched daze on the floor, we made an important discovery. He was using an acetylene torch to weld! In the excitement he had dropped the torch without shutting off the valves! The only thing in that room that would burn at that point was, and it was aimed at two H cylinders filled with oxygen and highly explosive acetylene gas!
Had that torch ignited that tank we would have lost the shop, the lunchroom, and the very brain trust of the class of 1978.
Sometimes we can get so engrossed in the urgent that we forget the important. When we neglect the important to tend to the urgent long enough, the important will become urgent. When that happens, it is too late.
In the clamor of our culture, does anyone know how much the federal debt is? Maybe we are just too distracted by our divisions to see what is really important.
Aaron Johnson is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News. He is pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville.