It was 10 years ago this month that Spencer Beach suffered third and fourth degree burns to 90 percent of his body in a terrible work accident. Yet Beach says today he wouldn’t change what happened, having found a way to turn the tragic event into something positive.
“Thirty-seven surgeries later and fourteen months treated in the hospital. More pain than you can imagine and all the medication and the anxiety and depression—it was overwhelming. But through all of that, somehow I’ve managed to turn this around,” he says.
April 24, 2003 started just like any other day. Beach, a flooring installer, was stripping linoleum in a house in Edmonton using flammable chemicals when a flash explosion engulfed him in flames. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors gave him a five percent chance of survival, and asked whether he wanted to fight or die.
Beach thought about his pregnant wife, and chose to fight.
And a hard fight it was. He endured dozens of surgeries and unspeakable pain. Nightmares, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, anger, and depression consumed him, he says, until one day he decided to stop trying to find someone to blame for his accident and started looking at where his own fault lay.
“This light-bulb went on in my head that said, ‘Hold on a second, you did something wrong that day too. You knew that chemical wasn’t safe. You wanted to phone in sick. You’re the one that decided everything was going to be OK. Although you didn’t have the proper training it’s not that you can say you had no idea,’” he says.
“And when that happened I stopped trying to blame everybody else. I stopped asking, ‘Why me?’ And I changed the question to, ‘Where can I take this?’”
Beach became determined to use his experience to help others. He began training to be a safety officer shortly after leaving the hospital and today he travels throughout North America, speaking to thousands of people every year about workplace safety and sharing his story.
He also created a DVD on improving workplace safety, and in 2010 released his first novel, “In Case of Fire,” which documents his accident and recovery process.
Beach says being able to help people through his talks makes the suffering he went through worthwhile. He says people constantly approach him to tell him how much his story opened their eyes, or inspired them to make changes in their own lives and workplaces.
“[The accident] does affect me and my family, but through it we’re preventing so many other instances from happening in other families. How can I ever consider that to be a bad thing?”
‘Bad things happen to everybody’
Beach believes his story resonates with so many because everyone experiences hardship in their lives, and his journey can inspire them to overcome their own personal struggles.
“Bad things happen to everybody—everyone is going to experience sickness, pain, loss of income, betrayal,” he says. “The question really is, how do you use that to move forward instead of letting it drag you down?”
Beach credits his wife, faith, family, hospital staff, and supporters for helping him overcome the mental, physical, and emotional challenges resulting from the accident that almost took his life.
Later this month he will hold special celebrations in Calgary and Edmonton to mark the 10th anniversary of the accident, and to thank the people who helped him through it.
“Countless people came out of the woodwork in the last 10 years, and in their own way they’ve all helped me to get where I’m at today,” he says. “That’s the whole point of the celebration—to say ‘Thank you.’”