Firewalking seminars are becoming increasingly popular. Firms also send their employees to run fire. This strengthens the cohesion of the group and the motivation: "If you have managed to walk over red-hot coals, you can do everything!".
During the fire run, participants (fire runners) walk barefoot over a 5 to 10 meter long glow carpet made of glowing charcoal pieces (approx. 240 to 450 °C were measured) or hot stones (with low heat capacity).
In 1989, karate teacher Antoine Bagady walked over a 60 meter bed of glowing coals without getting burned.
In 2001, the Guinness Book set the record for firewalking of a group of 22 people, ages 7 to 80, who went through a glow carpet of 111 meters.
A new world record was set on March 13, 2003 in La Balmondiére (France) with 222 meters and 16 participants.
The current world record for fire running has been at 250 meters since March 22, 2003 and was set up in St. Lorenzen / Wechsel (Austria).
It should be noted here that such routes should only be attempted by experienced fire runners. Beginners are advised not to spend more than seven seconds on the coal bed. The feet should be dry and well supplied with blood, so they should be as warm as possible before the fire run.
Firewalk as a motivation
Firewalk is often offered today in firewalk seminars, as motivational and self-awareness courses or for group cohesion. It is often claimed that there is no scientific explanation for the phenomenon. Accordingly, fire walking is only possible if you have prepared yourself meditatively and are in a trance. It is sometimes suggested that the power of thought can make human tissue heat-resistant. New Age movements offer a whole range of explanations: electromagnetic currents and theta waves to "levitation in hot air". Of course it's all just a show. No preparation is necessary.
During a firewalking seminar in the Club Aldiana holiday complex in Faro (Portugal), several participants suffered serious injuries, some of them second or third degree: wrong wood (oak), too thick a layer of wood and unsuitable subsoil (clay) caused this that the embers heat up to 2.000°C instead of the usual 250–500°C.
While fire walking is not dangerous, "broken glass walking" is not recommended. Broken glass works only if the layer of broken glass is thick enough - about ten centimeters increase success. The feet supporting our body weight push the shards down: the lower layers gradually break and crumble - and nothing happens to our feet, except maybe a tiny prick. If you are unlucky and hit a small chip somewhere that cannot submerge, injuries can occur. There is controversy over which glass should be used: One opinion is that green mineral water bottles are relatively harmless, with beer bottles breaking into smaller pieces and increasing the risk of accidents.
Physics of the Firewalk
Although the ember temperatures are between 200 and 500 degrees Celsius, injuries are rare. Once you have overcome your fear, you only have to walk through the embers quickly enough.
The phenomenon of fire walking is centuries old. The first theories were based on the thesis that when firing on the sole of the foot, increased sweating is formed as a "protective pad", similar to a drop of water on a hot stove. This "suffering frost effect" was discovered by a doctor of the same name in the 18th century and described a vapor cushion between the spherical drop and the plate.
Thermal capacity and thermal conductivity are the two most important factors that enable fire to run without burns. Wood and coal are poor heat conductors and have a low heat capacity, as is the ash that surrounds the embers. (Carbon, the main constituent of coal, has a heat capacity of 710 J / kg K, but the value of coal varies depending on the grade due to impurities). Therefore, coal can heat objects touching it slowly, especially objects made of material with high heat capacity and low thermal conductivity such as water, the main component of the human body (4286 J / kg K).
Another important factor is the contact time of feet and embers: ideally, the firewalker moves quickly over the embers, so that the feet only touch the hot floor briefly (less than half a second) with each step. Just as walking too slowly increases the risk of burns, on the other hand, you shouldn't run or run under any circumstances. This would inevitably shift the body weight to the tip of the toe and ball of the foot, which would result in a smaller area of the foot coming into (more intense) contact with the glowing coals with the same mass (of the body). In addition, the skin on and between the toes is generally much more sensitive due to the lower cornification.
A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Research in Seewiesen (Upper Bavaria) found that the "contact time" of the individual steps plays a crucial role. This was also demonstrated by experiments in which the participants wore nylon stockings and which experienced no signs of destruction.
In his book Pain, the Tuebingen psychiatrist Wolfgang Larbing describes that even high temperatures do not hurt if they only act for a short moment. The receptors (sensors of the nerve endings) under the surface of the skin react relatively slowly: they only perceive a temperature rise of 500 degrees as two degrees if the heat stimulus does not last longer than 0.3 seconds.
Scientists at the University of Tuebingen wanted to know exactly and simulated a fire run in the laboratory: They touched a hot surface with a piece of corpse skin, the contact time (0.2 to 0.5 seconds) and the temperature (220 degrees) observations corresponding to real fire runs. With four contacts, the skin temperature only rose by three degrees, with ten contacts by ten degrees.
Due to the blockage of the oxygen supply by the foot, the combustion is temporarily interrupted, so that no new heat is generated at the moment. Due to the heat exchange of the embers with the foot, the temperature of the coal also falls below the flash point, so that the combustion does not start again immediately after the contact has ended. This causes the fire runner to leave "cold footprints". During a fire-walking ritual, in which people dance in circles over the embers carpet, the embers are also released over time, so that firewalkers usually dance over them quickly and then have increasingly longer contact times at lower temperatures.
Studies have shown that the temperatures when walking on the feet are 50 to 200 degrees Celsius and that only brief contact with the embers is unproblematic. If the contact is too long, however, severe burns up to the 3rd degree and large, very painful burn blisters can occur.
A decisive factor is the material used for the embers carpet. Charcoal is usually used. Charcoal is a poor heat conductor. If you were running fire e.g. Using iron plates would result in devastating burns. Everyone has burned himself on a stove at some point. If the participant did not run quickly over the embers or stall, he would inevitably burn himself.
So you don't need any body control for the firewalk? The answer: a clear yes and no! Once you have overcome the fear of fire or a carpet of embers, this can increase your self-esteem considerably. If you run the fire run in a group, e.g. with colleagues, that also promotes cohesion. ∎
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