Spencer Beach

Top 40 Under 40 2013

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 39

Job Title: Professional Speaker, Spencer Speaks Inc.

Why He’s Top 40: After enduring a horrific life-threatening experience, he’s teaching others about the importance of job safety and how to move forward in the wake of personal hardship.

What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “The trees. I go down to Calgary or elsewhere, and there are no trees. It’s flat as far as you can see. To me, the trees here show the pride we have in our river valley and community and how we take care of it.”

One day, 10 years ago, Spencer Beach’s life changed forever.

It started innocently enough, when Beach, working as a flooring installer, was given the task of removing linoleum from a newly built home because it was the wrong colour. As per his employer’s instructions, he poured a chemical solvent on the floor to break down the adhesive properties underneath and speed up the removal process.

Then the furnace kicked in.

The cold air return pulled the fumes into the furnace where they ignited and blew back into the room, surrounding Beach with flames as hot as 1500C. It took him only 20 seconds to get out of the house, but in the process, Beach suffered third-and fourth-degree burns to 90 per cent of his body.

“All I could do was think of my wife who was pregnant with our first child, and how much I let them all down,” says Beach about the ordeal. “Prior to that, I was worried about getting the job done, bills and other distractions, like how I was going to plan my friend’s stag party that evening.”

It was an epiphany that changed his life after enduring months of hospitalization, beating the five per cent odds doctors had given him to survive, and contending with the physical and psychological scars of the experience. Now, as a professional speaker, Beach conducts more than 100 engagements annually across the continent on topics ranging from workplace safety to overcoming personal ordeals.

A graduate of the University of Alberta‘s Occupational Health and Safety Program in 2005 (with distinction), Beach has been instrumental in reinforcing a number of worksite-safety initiatives. This year alone, he’s helped kick off a program at the Molson Coors plant in Moncton, N.B., addressed employees at an Enerflex oil and gas processing plant in Wyoming and made a presentation at Shell Canada in Fort McMurray.

His book, In Case of Fire, available on his website and Amazon, has sold more than 12,000 copies so far. Five per cent of the proceeds go to the Firefighters Burn Treatment Unit at the University of Alberta Hospital, where he was a patient and where he started developing the life lessons he wanted to reveal to the rest of the world once he was discharged.

“I learned a lot when I was in the hospital dealing with the pain, depression and anger. I learned these lessons so hard, the hard way. If I didn’t share them, what the hell was the point in going through all of this?”

Beach acknowledges that none of these events would have happened without dealing with the anger and depression he suffered from his near-tragedy 10 years ago. To that end, he advises others angered by their own experiences that taking charge of their emotions is the most ideal way to move forward.

“Get angry, but don’t let it get you down,” he says. “Use it.”

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