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Ouch, ouch and damn, double ouch. IF that's a pic of you then what did you do to get all that road rash?


Aug 24, 2003.

6:30 PM

It was a beautiful summer day in Jacksonville, Florida.

I'd just gotten home from a fantastic gig right on the beach and decided that it would be a wonderful evening for Mrs. Rowka and I to do a little hot tubbing. I walked around the side of the house where the pool filter, propane powered water heater and associated valves are located. I arranged the valves to circulate the water flow from the spa, through the heater, and back to the spa. Turned the heater on and went back in the house to make further preparations. The heater did not fire right away, which did not concern me as there is about a minutes delay while the electronics go through all its checks and what not.


Twenty minutes later I checked the water temperature and was surprised that the water was not getting hot. I looked at the heater. Nope, it never fired. So I opened the front access panel to confirm that the pilot light was still lit. It wasn't.


This is where I have to pause the story to tell a bit about the workings, and safety features, of a propane powered water heater.

Propane being piped to the heater, after passing through some filters and regulators, is fed to a main control valve. The valve has two discharge ports: a main burner discharge and a pilot burner discharge. The pilot discharge basically is in an always-open state unless it is shut manually or the pilot flame goes out. If the pilot goes out, a sensor detects that and will lock all the valves closed, not allowing any propane to flow. The main burner discharge opens when the following conditions are met:

The pilot burner flame is on.

There is water flowing through the heat exchanger.

The thermostat calls for heat.


If any of these conditions are not met, the main burner valve is not supposed to open.


In order to ignite the pilot, one must get on one's knees in front of the heater, bend over so one's face is directly in front of the combustion chamber, manually hold the pilot valve open with one hand and push the piezo clicker spark generator thingie with the other. That's exactly what I did. What I didn't do was notice any mercaptan smell (mercaptan, for those of you who do not know, is a chemical added to LPG and natural gas that gives them their distinctive smell). I bet you can see where this is going.


The best I can figure is that the heater checked to see if the pilot was on and decided it was. Checked to see if there was water flowing in the heat exchanger and decided it was. Checked to see if the thermostat was calling for heat and decided it was. *something caused the pilot to extinguish at this very moment. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was Lug. I'll never know*

The main burner valve opened, flooding the combustion chamber with propane.


As soon as I pushed the little piezo clicker spark generator thingie a great ball of fire came rolling out of the heater to the point where I was awkwardly on my knees, bent over, with my arms and hands in some contorted configuration.


10 days in the hospital being treated for 2nd degree burns over 14% of my body.

Lots of morphine.

Daily debrement, after which I was given Versed which literally wiped away my short term memory. Apparently, the whole debrement experience is so horrifically painful, that if I had remembered it from one day to the next, there is no way I'd have let them do it again. Better living through chemistry.

Sent home and had to continue debrement on myself (at this point I was healing up well and it wasn't too terribly painful).

Four weeks total to return to work.

Two weeks more and I was bandage free (but was still wearing compression wraps for almost a year).


But I feel much better now.



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