The Perils of Firing a Kiln Part II

The accident

That evening about five or six, I went out to the studio to change out the kiln car and start the next firing.  I put on a pair of Kanthal gloves and opened the kiln door.  Kanthal is a fire and heat resistant material that is good at lower temperatures.  As I pulled on the kiln car, I didn’t exert enough force to make the kiln car make it past the bump.  The bump was a combination of two things:  a slight distance between one piece of angle iron and the next; and the car’s weight slightly spreading the angle iron, making the track sit just a little lower than the joining track.  I pushed the car back in but this time, for more leverage, I put my foot on a bar that ran from the left track to the right track holding them parallel.

V Groove Wheel on angle iron track.

 As I pulled, my foot slipped to the right and moved the track.  The car had some momentum and came rolling off the track onto the cinder block supporting the track.  My immediate reaction was to grab the car to try and stop it from rolling forward.  In that split second I did not consider that it all weighed over 1000 lbs.  I could not stop its forward momentum, and the car came off the block and dropped down about 6″, landing on my left index finger, pinning it and me to the edge of the piece of angle iron.  All of the 700° pottery and 30 lb. kiln shelves came tumbling down onto me.

It was really hot!

Everywhere that the pottery and kiln shelves touched my skin, it burned me.  I was trapped among the debris and immediately began grabbing kiln shelves trying to pry myself free.  The shelves snapped as I pulled up against the weight of the kiln car.  At the same time, I was screaming at the top of my lungs.  It is strange what goes through your mind at a time like that.  The first thing that I remember thinking in a calm inner voice was:  “This is certainly a worst-case scenario.”  My next thought was that I might have to pull off my finger to get free.  For some reason, even though it was August, we didn’t have the air conditioner on in the house and, my wife heard me screaming for help and came running. 

My wife came running

When she arrived, I told her to give me a pipe in the corner, and I used it to pry the kiln car off my finger.  As fast as we could, we loaded our children in the car and headed for the emergency room at University Hospital, which was close by and known for being the best place to go for trauma injuries.  As my wife drove, I slid my cradled hand from the glove to see the damage to my left index finger. It was already turning yellow from lack of blood flow, and both sides of my finger had ruptured.

Arriving at the Hospital.

We went into the emergency room and began the process of being admitted.  The admitting nurse was relatively calm until I removed my glove and showed her my hand.   Suddenly, she stood up and grabbed a wheelchair to put me in, and took me to a physician.  He put me on a gurney in the hall and had an IV put in my arm.  As he made arrangements for my surgery, I began making some, apparently, unusual requests.  Could I be awake during the treatment? Could I have a particular anesthesiologist, a family friend?

Hurry Up and Wait.

After the sudden rush, they left me on the gurney with my IV for what seemed like a long time.  Then the surgeon came and told me that I needed to go to the hospital down the street.  He told me that they had contacted a hand surgeon, and he worked out of the hospital down the road.  He said, “don’t wait for an ambulance, take your IV with you, get in the car and go.”  Already friends and family were gathering at the hospital, so we caravanned to the new hospital.

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