He was on top of the world.
Spencer Beach was 29 years old, happily married with a baby on the way, was one of the best in the flooring trade in Edmonton, and his business was flourishing.
But one day his life changed forever. A job site safety error found Beach engulfed in a flash fire.
“It came with a whistle and a bang, changing my life within the blink of an eye,” he told an assembly of over 400 students at J.L Crowe Secondary School on Thursday morning.
Beach spoke to the students for one hour on how the decisions they make now could greatly influence the rest of their lives, and how playing it safe was never a foolish option.
Within 20 seconds of the fire breaking out Beach said he received third and fourth degree burns to 90 percent of his body. He fought through the fire to escape, even though he thought he was going to die.
“Holding onto the fading thoughts of my wife and the developing child within her womb gave me the courage to find a way out,” he said.
He had no idea what that survival would mean. It has been a struggle to get his life back, and he has been greatly changed in the process.
“But I would never change what happened to me if I had the option to go back, it’s been a blessing,” he replied to one student at the end of the presentation.
“You guys have your whole lives ahead of you and some of the decisions you make now could make your life very rich, or troublesome like mine was,” he noted earlier.
Beach spoke at length about the effects of his spiralling drug and alcohol use at a young age, and how he had lost sight of what life meant in his pursuit of his “fun.”
He earned thousands of dollars working on the oil rigs early in life, but spent thousands of dollars on his vices, finally deciding at the age of 20 that he did not want that lifestyle anymore. As a result of his decision to quit, he lost all of his friendships and had to start over.
“That’s what drugs and alcohol got me: nothing. Absolutely nothing,” he said. “It was fun. I get that. But the problem is you are always trying to reach out for that next fun that it becomes normal. And then that normal becomes the only way you know how to have fun.”
Beach also talked about safety in recreation, on the job, and in life, and how simple decisions—like to wear a helmet while snowboarding—could make a difference later in life.
Now Beach measures success at the end of each day by asking if his family is happy, healthy and safe.
“I no longer worry about anything else,” he said. “I no longer worry about what people think of me, I no longer worry about the bills coming in, I no longer worry if that next cheque is coming in. Why don’t I worry? Because those things always seem to work themselves out.”
He encouraged the students to make their own decisions in life, and embrace their uniqueness.
“For all of us, what makes us special, what makes us unique, is not in the colour of the hair, in how many piercings you can put into your body, if you can have a tattoo going all of the way up your neck, it’s not in the way you dress,” he said.
“What makes you unique and what makes you special is the experiences you have in your life, and how you use those experiences to benefit society.”
He looked out at the gathered grade 10, 11 and 12 students in the gymnasium.
“I see a whole bunch of young adults who are about to go out into the world, and every single one of you is already special, because you were born that way,” he said. “And never let anyone tell you differently.”
As adults people finally start to realize that what makes them special has nothing to do with the outside, Beach added, it has everything to do with the inside.
This marked the third week Beach was in the area. He spoke to three area high schools, and Salmo as well, and spoke to every single Teck Trail Operations employee on site—1,600 people in all.
“He really does have a good message that we want to share with the community,” said Catherine Adair, Teck community engagement coordinator. “But for some of the older students … they are going to be out and starting their first jobs with potentially unsafe situations. This just makes them aware of the dangers, both in those new jobs and in their every day lives.”