Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU)
Sun, 20 Nov 1994 23:24:59 -0500
Nathan, et al,
The Health and Safety Guide is still alive and well. Here the 1993
edition is still for sale, although I've heard a 1994 edition is out
there. This Guide states BSA policy and clearly prohibits using liquid
accelerants to start fires. The Guide to Safe Scouting elaborates most of
what is in the Health and Safety Guide, but does not address this
particular issue. My understanding is that the National Policy takes
precedence over an implementing guide; e.g. Guide to Safe Scouting.
Now speaking as a jurist, if I were representing a Scout burned by using a
liquid fuel to start a fire, I would make sure that the Jury got to see
the prohibition in the Health and Safety Guide after learning that the
leaders permitted this abuse. From then on, my case would be on damages,
having established negligence per se.
Putting my Commissioner's hat back on, I must say that all of this
wrangling over what this or that book or guide says, despite
well-intentioned motivations, is deeply disturbing to me! We are as
leaders here to serve the youth who participate in Scouting programs. One
of our fundamental concerns should be with safety of programs.
Yes, you or I or any number of folks can safely light a charcoal fire in
the backyard cooker after a liberal application of charcoal lighter. But
that's not the point. Too many adults and many more youth members, don't
think or realize the danger when they use liquid fuels to start fires.
When I was a Camp Program Director, the OA did a service project of
cleaning out the camp's warehouses. All the stuff was piled in a field to
be burned (in the days before ecology awareness). The pile was about
thirty feet long, ten high and ten wide. The Ranger poured about 20
gallons of gasoline on the fire and went back to his truck to get a torch,
which he intended to light and throw onto the fire from a respectable
distance. To my utter horror, I watched as the Camp Director accompanied
by a Commissioner (a 30 year veteran) walked up to the pile. The
Commissioner gave the CD a matchbook, which he promptly used. The
resulting explosion threw both of them about ten feet in the air and
thirty feet backwards, burning off all their body hair and outter clothing.
Now imagine, if this had been the Council fire and it had been lighted off
by a Scout!
I've also seen adults squirting lighter fluid into a lit fire, spraying
aerosal mixtures into a fire, pouring oil on a fire, and the worst was a
"bright" fellow who laid a fire under a dining fly, then liberally
drenched the wood with kerosine. In the latter instance the only loss was
the dining fly and a half acre of alfalfa. In these instances all were
asking for trouble and lucky. Now what happens when a Scout replicates
these behaviors with far less experience and luck?
Before anyone advocates using liquid accelerants to start a fire, I'd
suggest they visit the nearest burn-trauma center to see what happens to a
human body when it burns and learn about the agonizing treatments that follow.
Come on folks, there are plenty of ways to start fires without the liquid
fuels. They just aren't necessary. Its also good Scoutcraft for the
Scouts to learn these techniques, which build their self-esteem and self-
confidence. Why haggle over a rule, when the risk doesn't justify the
practice and when the alternative far better serves the purposes of Scouting?
Speaking only for myself in the Scouting Spirit, Michael F Bowman
Used to be a Beaver, National Capital Area Council, B.S.A.
mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU (mfbowman@CAPACCESS.ORG after 12/13/94)
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City