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Thoughts & Views: Fanning the flames on social media

By now, you surely have heard of “The Ice Bucket Challenge” wherein people are videotaped pouring ice water over their heads in the name of charity. The stunt is raising awareness of, and donations for, the fight against ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But there is another “challenge” out there, performed in the name of abject stupidity. Or insanity. Or both. It’s known as “The Fire Challenge,” and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re probably an adult. If you are a parent or guardian, you damn well ought to learn about it, because it’s endangering your kids.

The best we can determine, the first “Fire Challenge” video was posted on YouTube back in April 2012. Today, there are multiple videos. And there have been multiple injuries but, amazingly, no deaths. Yet.

Last week, the N.J. Division of Fire Safety issued an alert to first responders in the Garden State. It reads as follows:

“A disturbing new trend is manifesting itself online on social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube called ‘The Fire Challenge.’

“The fire challenge involves teenagers pouring an ignitable liquid . . . on their bare skin and igniting it while another teenager takes photos or video of the event. [We have deleted the type of liquid cited, although several kinds are used.]

“The photos and video are subsequently uploaded to the various social media sites for the world’s online community to watch and share. The imbecilic act is supposed to elicit laughter as onlookers and internet viewers watch the reaction from the person who is on fire. . . .

“Several news stories regarding the practice report that when young survivors are interviewed, most say they didn’t give much thought to the possibility of being injured or killed and they didn’t realize the fire would be so intense.

“Since many of these reported incidents involve the ignitable liquid being poured on the chest, emergency responders must be particularly aware of the potential for serious respiratory burns when treating victims, in addition to the obvious external burns.”

Repeat: Kids are pouring flammable liquids on themselves and setting themselves on fire. Repeat: Most say they didn’t give much thought to being injured or killed and didn’t realize the fire would be so intense.

Part of our still semi-sane brain wonders if the whole thing is not some sort of hoax. (The reported death of a teenager in Buffalo was apparently untrue. Apparently true was the Aug. 24 news story about a North Carolina mother arrested after filming her son performing the stunt.)

In the videos, the subject usually stands in a bathtub or shower stall, presumably so water to douse the flames is readily available. Except, when you’re going up in flames, it takes only a millisecond to be seriously burned.

In at least one video, a panicked youth, torso ablaze, runs from the bathroom into another room. How he didn’t set the house, as well as himself, on fire is not known.

If you are seeking some profound analysis of the Fire Challenge phenomenon, you won’t find it here. We are simply dumbstruck.

Perhaps the best summation about the warped mindsets behind all this is in a parody photo we saw online: A hospital patient, swathed in bandages head to toe, is holding a phone. The caption reads, “How many ‘likes’ did I get? #FireChallenge”.

- Karen Zautyk 

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