Dad who exploded in flames in freak gin accident saved ‘by being overweight’
A dad claims he only survived being set on fire in a freak gin distillery accident because he was overweight.
Paul Harrison, 34, from Barnsley, was engulfed in flames when scorching hot compressed alcohol escaped a still and squirted all over him, before being ignited by a propane burner.
Paul suffered was left in a coma for almost two weeks and suffered first and second degree burns in the horrific episode at Sheffield Distillery, YorkshireLive reports.
He suffered injuries to his hands, arms, face and torso and has still not fully recovered, despite the accident taking place on May 26 last year.
He said: “If I had been 10 years older I wouldn’t be here and if I had been any shorter I wouldn’t be here because I would have got it full frontal in the face.
“If I had been any slimmer too I probably wouldn’t be here so there was a benefit to being overweight.
“I feel very lucky and there was a 55 per cent chance of survival and 45 per cent the other way because of the extent of my injuries.”
Paul, who lives with his wife Hannah and their children – including his youngest who had been born just weeks before the accident – was rushed to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital before being transferred to Pinderfields Hospital.
The Wakefield hospital has a specialist burns unit and Paul spent 10 weeks there receiving treatment, which included spending 10 days in a coma.
Recalling the moment he was engulfed in flames, Paul said: “The botanicals got blocked at the top of the still which created a pressure build-up.
“Liquid doesn’t like being compressed so it squirted out at 85C which scalded me first and then because we were using a propane burner that ignited it and the whole lot went up.
“Now the little still is no longer in use. That is a decorative item now and we just use the big still which poses no risk whatsoever.”
Paul’s hands were badly damaged in the fire and he has had to undergo “webbing work” after he lost the skin in between his fingers.
He said he watched his palms “fall off” in the aftermath of the fire and recalls his initial time in hospital as like having an “out of body experience” before he was put in a coma.
As the accident happened during the first lockdown, Paul was separated from his family while he was in a coma.
He did not see his eldest daughter for over six months and his wife had to ring the ICU for daily updates on Paul’s condition.
His scars could take another year to fully heal and he admits there is still a long road to recovery but he is hopeful for the future.
The Health and Safety Executive ruled that the fire was a “freak accident” and after returning to work, initially in admin, Paul is now back in the distillery and is celebrating after the company’s vodka and gin won awards.
Its Assay Vodka won gold in the International Spirits Challenge 2021, with three other spirits bagging bronzes in the competition.
Paul said: “I’ve still got a lot of recovery and luckily because of furlough the pub has been able to keep me on that.
“I’ve been doing admin since August but started working in the distillery again. Nobody rushed me to go back and I’m quite pragmatic about things.
“I don’t get wound up or stressed about things I can’t change.
“I know nowadays if I’ve done too much and if I’ve had a busy few days my body just says ‘no’ and I won’t get out of bed.
“It’s more frustrating that I can’t do things like play the guitar or violin, or play rugby.
“It’s going to take time and I don’t know what my recovery time will be. I just know that I couldn’t have asked for better care from the staff at Pinderfields.
“From the doctors and nurses to housekeeping staff and occupational therapists – they have all been exceptional and I wouldn’t be as far along as I am without their expertise.”