DALLAS — More than 30 people who attended an event with motivational speaker Tony Robbins have been treated for burns after Robbins encouraged them to walk on hot coals as a way of conquering their fears, Dallas fire officials said.
Five people were taken to a hospital Thursday night, while the rest were treated at the scene for burns to their feet and lower extremities, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said.
The hot coals were spread outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as part of a four-day Robbins seminar called "Unleash the Power Within." It's a regular part of some of Robbins' seminars; more than 20 people were treated for foot burns after an event in 2012 in San Jose, California.
Paul Gold of West Palm Beach, Florida, suffered second-degree burns on both feet that will take about two weeks to heal, he told The Associated Press on Friday from a burn unit. It was the second time he's walked on hot coals; the first he described as a "very good experience" at a Robbins seminar a few months ago in Florida.
He said the difference Thursday was that it appeared staff members didn't allow the coals to cool enough before adding more to the pile, which was about 3 to 4 feet wide and about 20 feet long. He realized halfway through his walk over the coals that he'd suffered burns.
"In hindsight, jumping off would have been a fantastic idea," he said. "But when you're in the spirit of the moment, you're kinda focused on one task."
After his walk, Gold, 44, said it felt like someone had "taken a hot iron and pressed it against my feet." He also said he saw a girl who was crying and others complaining of burns; his fiancee had minor burns.
"I'm not even sure I could do it again, because now I have this massive fear of fire," he said, adding later that he still believes Robbins helps a lot of people and that it was staff members who "weren't following directions properly."
In a statement to the AP, representatives for Robbins said about 7,000 people walked across the coals and only five "requested any examination beyond what was readily available on site."
"Someone not familiar with the fire walk observed the event and called 911 erroneously reporting hundreds of people requiring medical attention for severe burns," according to the statement.
One participant, Jacqueline Luxemberg, told WFAA that some people were not concentrating on walking across the coals because they were taking selfies and asking others to take video of them.
Evans, with Dallas Fire-Rescue, said organizers had the necessary permits for the burning coals.
The fire walk is a voluntary experience and trained medical staff is on hand, according to Susan Thompson, a spokeswoman for Robbins Research International. In the decades that the fire walk has been part of events, very few have suffered any extensive injuries, she said.
Thompson did not know whether participants had to sign a waiver or what instruction was given by staff; Gold said he signed something at registration, but did not know what it said.
The 6-foot-7 Robbins conducts a variety of seminars — which can range from about $1,000 to up to $3,000 — and "Unleash the Power Within" is described on his website as "designed to help you unlock and unleash the forces inside that can help you break through any limit," and those who do the fire walk are instructed to wear pants that can roll up and avoid loose-fitting or long-flowing clothes.
Robbins says on his website that he believes people who perform tasks they once thought unthinkable, such as walking across hot coals, will help them "conquer the other fires of your life with ease."
Robbins' celebrity has resulted in crossover appeal. For instance, he played himself in the 2001 comedy "Shallow Hal" starring Jack Black.
Hunzinger reported from Chicago. Associated Press reporter Hannah Cushman in Chicago contributed to this report.