Issue Date: December 2006 Issue
Setting Yourself On Fire
In 1976, Chagrin Falls native Ted Batchelor set himself on fire and jumped off the falls into the Chagrin River on a bet, beginning a decade-long tradition. A stuntman, he set a Guinness World Record for longest full-body burn with no supplied oxygen in 2004. In May, he celebrated the 30th anniversary of his first jump with a stunt that raised $6,000 for the Valley Arts Center.
For my 30th anniversary jump, I sought permission from the Chagrin Falls City Council.
I was afraid they wouldn’t go for it, because they voted me down, 6-1, last time. When they approved it, I felt like, “Be careful what you ask for.” There was no way to back out.
I felt obligated to put on a great show for the people and the village. Also, my two sons had only heard stories, so I wanted them and a whole new generation to see a fire dive.
I got ready with my team in my mother’s garage just like we’ve done every time. I have to put on two layers of clothes, both of which are saturated with heat-resistant gel. And I always have a bottle of water handy, because my nerves make me thirsty.
Going down to the falls was strange, because the Chagrin Falls police and firefighters were providing crowd control and giving me an escort. They’re the same people who arrested me when I jumped in 1981 through 1985.
When I was on the scaffolding above the falls, my team handed me a torch and I ignited myself. When I’m on fire, I usually can’t see the flames and don’t know it until my team tells me, “You’re up!”
The trick to fire is to keep moving forward. Otherwise, I’ll breathe in the flames and singe my lungs. That would cause permanent damage.
I never take being on fire for granted, but I was most scared about the dive. It had rained for the seven days before my jump, and I was afraid I’d be swept away or hit by a log before I was ready to jump.
Without a good jump, I wouldn’t clear the rock ledge that’s submerged but sticks out from falls.
When I finally jumped, I didn’t think I’d pushed off far enough.
When I hit the water though, the current bubbling up from the bottom made it feel like landing on a pillow. It was hugely gratifying and an honor to make the dive.
- as told to Ian Hoffman