Michael Samuel, 10, found himself in the midst of an emergency while delivering newspapers on Aug. 8. Now a local man is thanking him for his help. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Man burned while working on boat grateful for paper carrier’s help

Flames erupt from vacuum cleaner as man cleans bilge tank

A man who suffered severe burns while working on his boat says he’s grateful for the help of Michael Samuel, a paper carrier for the Mirror.

Michael, 10, was delivering newspapers around 10 a.m. Aug. 8 when he heard someone calling for help. The man, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, had been torched by flames that erupted from a vacuum cleaner on his boat.

“I just heard a guy screaming ‘help, help, call an ambulance,’” said Michael. “First, I ran into the garage where he was, but he left. So I went door-to-door, looking for help, and no one was home.”

He found a man who was working on a lawn, but the man didn’t have a cellphone, Michael said.

Together, they found a woman in a nearby house who called 911. Firefighters and paramedics soon arrived at the scene.

When the man emerged from his home, he appeared badly burned as he walked to the ambulance.

“He was wrapped in this white blanket, but his face was pretty red,” said Michael. “It looked like some chemical burns all over his face.”

He described the experience as scary.

“I just felt kinda scared because I’d never experienced something like that before,” Michael said.

The man injured in the blaze was trying to clean out the bilge, the compartment where water collects on a boat, when the accident took place.

The boat, a 22-foot motor yacht from the early ’80s, had been sitting dry in the driveway for five months.

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It was draped with a large grey tarp, which obscured the daylight, making it hard to see the substance in the bilge, he said.

He thought the substance was water, but it turned out to be gasoline. The fuel had leaked from the engine’s tank.

As he removed the liquid using a vacuum, he noticed the strong smell of gasoline.

“About five seconds into it, I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is all fuel,” he said.

As he reached out his arm to turn off the vacuum, a fireball erupted from the vacuum cleaner.

“I remember seeing the fireball, and then closing my eyes and holding my breath and just seeing the light and feeling the heat,” he said.

The burns were especially bad on exposed portions of his right arm and leg – he was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops at the time.

He managed to cover part of his face with one hand, which he said probably saved his eyes from being damaged.

The man instantly leaped over the side of the boat, landing several metres away in the driveway.

“When I jumped out of the boat, I flew out,” he said. “I landed on my feet, hit my knees, got back up [and] screamed.”

He saw that his skin was peeling from his arm and knew he was in trouble.

“I frantically looked around and couldn’t see anybody, except for the paper boy down the road,” he said. “I screamed to him: ‘Call 911!’”

The man then rushed into his garage, called 911 and went into his bathroom, where he saw his injuries in the mirror.

“I just sat in the shower until the paramedics arrived,” he said.

As he walked to the ambulance, he noticed Michael outside.

“I was actually quite happy that he was there,” he said. “If I passed out, it was probably him who would’ve saved me.”

Photos taken shortly after the accident show large areas of skin completely burned away. Three weeks later, the burns have begun to heal.

He said the experience taught him the importance of being vigilant when it comes to safety.

“Complacency will kill you,” he said.

Thomas Doherty, chief of the Campbell River Fire Department, said the dispatch centre got a call about the accident at 10:19 a.m. Firefighters were on-scene less than five minutes later, and the fire was already out.

Doherty said that fumes appeared to have hit an ignition source, resulting in an explosion.

The victim in the accident said he’s glad to be alive. And although he was able to call 911 on his own, he was thankful that Michael was around.

“I feel extremely blessed and really grateful for that little guy,” he said. “I feel really grateful for life.”

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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