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Why is Fire Walking still Employed by some Organisations?

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Firewalking – Up in Smoke?
There was a fascinating article on page 25 of the Daily Mail on Friday of last week (3/2/06). SI Corporate Development ran a fire walking exercise for a top City accountancy firm to ‘bond and form a tight-knit firm’. Unfortunately it appears to have gone disastrously wrong for everyone concerned especially one of the participants. Business Analyst Aoife Bird’s participation in this process resulted in her being taken to hospital with ‘blistered and painful’ feet and resulted in two weeks off work. SI Corporate Development had to pay out £7,655 after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety laws. (£3000 Fine and £4,655 Costs).

The article also includes the following observation which gives prospective companies considering fire walking something to consider: ‘Unsurprisingly, the accountancy firm involved, Deloitte and Touche, has no plans to organise any more fire walking days for its staff. Other blue chip firms, which have increasingly sent employees on such adventure days are also likely to reconsider whether playing with fire is a good idea’. And all this despite the fact that the fire was ‘constructed by a qualified fire walk instructor’.

Similar instances have occurred like this in the past:
+ Seven trainee insurance salesmen suffered burns during a firewalk at the Cheltenham/Gloucester Moathouse Hotel in 1998
+ Twelve Burger King employees suffered first and second-degree burns during a team-building fire walk in Florida in 2001

For further information around this debacle you may look her:

http://avantgo.thetimes.co.uk/services/avantgo/article/0,,2022632,00.html

Garry Platt

Garry Platt

6 Responses

  1. Firewalking
    Garry
    There are some practices that seem destined to get development a bad name. I remember the publicity around very challenging outdoor events a few years ago. Then there was tree hugging and other new age activities.
    Generally I am in favour of pushing boundaries and even using unconvential techniques if they genuinely work. The argument is that sometimes you need to take higher risks to make more of a dramatic impact. It is the argument that favours revolution rather than evolution. I feel there is a place for this as long as you have some very clear, agreed outcomes, buy-in at every level, extremely competent facilitators and careful management of any potential downside.
    In the case you quote, and rather too many others, it would seem that those running it have been over-ambitious, under-skilled, ill-prepared and dangerously misguided. Anthony Robbins may be able to get away with doing firewalks – and he does turn them into powerful learning experiences – but there are few others I would trust to even contemplate it.
    I wonder what others think. Does playing with fire lead to more than getting your fingers burnt or is there a place for radical techniques such as firewalking?
    Graham

  2. party tricks still have a place
    I regard firewalking as a party trick, a bit like when the NLP trainer helps you punch your fist through a piece of wood. It’s not “training”, and, as a training manager there is no way I could justify commissioning it.

    But it would be a shame if this episode heralded the end of firewalking sessions for employees. I hope it doesn’t, and I hope that one day I’ll work for an employer who will be sufficiently bamboozled by party tricks to pay for me to have a go. In terms of bang for your buck it must be one the quickest and easiest ways to bring a huge grin to anyone’s face, and we need more of that in the UK workplace.

  3. What do they hope to achieve?
    Would it not be safer, and a better use of the workforces time, to try to find out what it is about the workplace that is so destructive to moral and the sense of team that management have to send the workforce away from it to try to find a cure.

    Peter A Hunter

  4. Walk the Talk
    Hi,
    I did the fire walk both in Dubai and in India – and loved it. Probably because I knew I was going to do it even before I got there – and I was doing it for myself. Noone elected me to go and I had noone to impress but myself.
    Isn’t that called “motivation”? If managers spend less time demotivating employees I believe they can do anything -even walk thru fire for the right management

  5. Firewalking – Again!
    This newspaper article in the Daily Mail February 15 pressed all my buttons this week.

    Quote: “A FIREWALKER raised £2,000 for charity – then cost the taxpayer £3,000 for hospital treatment to his singed feet.” You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    Scott Bell, apparently runs (hobbles now probably) a fire walking company and reports that he was ‘trained in Sweden’. Personally I’d be asking for my money back, however. Steven Jeffrey the consultant plastic surgeon at the hospital where Mr Bell was admitted said: ‘Every dangerous sport carries with it a risk of injury. Smokers have a higher risk of cancer, but we tax them a lot more. Perhaps organisers of fire walking events should be expected to pay.”

    Mr Bell is however unbowed by the situation; ‘My feet hurt a lot but in the end it was just bad blistering. There’s no long term damage and I can’t wait to do it again.’ I was glad to hear that Mr Bell believes he is not seriously damaged.

  6. Not what it says on the tin
    Although I come somewhat late to the party, this story seemed worth commenting on.

    Firstly, I am fascinated by the idea that firewalking can be written off as some kind of party trick.
    Of course I don’t know how that particular writer defines “party trick” – but if that’s what it is then it has to be one of the most dangerous “party tricks” I’ve ever heard of. Rather like stabbing the table between your outspread fingers at high speed – whilst wearing an opaque mask across your eyes.

    Secondly, may I just set the record straight about breaking boards and NLP. I’ve no idea where this comes from, but I can safely say there is NOTHING in genuine NLP about breaking boards, or anything like it. So sorry, the sentence should have read: “When a trainer who CLAIMS to be teaching NLP gets you to break a board … etc.”

    And thirdly, to cut to the chase, firewalking was introduced into certain courses for a specific reason, namely that it was CLAIMED that by successfully completing a firewalk this somehow proved that you had “learnt”, and were able to use, everything included in the course that preceded the firewalk.
    Which is a load of twaddle, of course.

    Being able to do a firewalk successfully “proves” nothing except that you have completed a firewalk successfully. It doesn’t even necessarily prove that you “learnt” how to do a firewalk successfully – you may simply have obeyed a valid set of instructions correctly. In Gregory Bateson’s model of “logical levels of learning” that’s what happens at the LOWEST level – before genuine learning begins.

    Garry and I don’t always see eye to eye, but in this case I believe he is rightly calling our attention to an activity which has no discernable value – not even as a “party trick” – and is potentially, and quite often actually, extremely dangerous.

    (By the way, whilst one might have a much better chance of learning the “safe” firewalking technique in India, I still don’t see what possible value it has other than allowing one to say “I did the firewalk”.)

    Thanks, Garry

    Best wishes

    Andy Bradbury

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