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Dozens Burned During Tony Robbins Motivational Exercise

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins is interviewed on the Fox Business Network in March. Dozens of people were burned in a coal-walking exercise at one of his seminars.
Richard Drew
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins is interviewed on the Fox Business Network in March. Dozens of people were burned in a coal-walking exercise at one of his seminars.

They were hoping to conquer their fears by walking over a bed of hot coals. But instead, dozens of people participating in a Dallas event hosted by motivational speaker Tony Robbins were treated for burns.

As a result of walking across coals, "a large number of these people sustained burn injuries to their feet and lower extremities," Jason Evans, a spokesman for the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, said in a statement. Approximately 30-40 people were injured. Most elected to be treated at the scene, and five opted to go to a local hospital for evaluation.

According to Robbins' website, the coal-walking exercise is meant to "turn fear into power." The site reads: "Once you start doing what you thought was impossible, you'll conquer the other fires of your life with ease."

Jennifer Connelly, a spokeswoman for Robbins, tells the Two-Way that 7,000 attendees at the "Unleash Your Power Within" seminar successfully walked across the coals. She adds that it's been a "celebrated part of this event for 35 years." The walk typically causes "fewer than 1% of participants [to] experience 'hot spots' which is similar to a sunburn which can be treated with aloe."

Connelly suggests there was "no need for emergency personnel":

"Someone not familiar with the process of the fire walk called 911 reporting the need for emergency services vehicles to be dispatched. While there was no need for emergency personnel we are grateful to the quick and robust response from Dallas emergency services, only 5 of 7,000 participants requested any examination beyond what was readily available on site."

This isn't the first time participants at a Tony Robbins seminar have sustained burns. As The Associated Press reports, "21 out of 6,000 people who walked on hot coals at a Robbins event in 2012 in California were treated for burns."

Video posted by CBS DFW showed medical workers treating an injured woman sitting on a gurney. Another video shows a barefoot injured man hobbling alongside medics.

The event organizers had the proper permits for the coal walk, Evans tells NPR, including "a permit for Flammable and Combustible Liquids" and "a permit for Open Burning/Recreational Fires."

Walking across hot coals does have its advocates. CBS DFW spoke with uninjured participant Tish Brazil: "From a numbers perspective that result is negligible, and I don't mean to diminish anything that's happened to anybody. But there are some coaching techniques, really specific strategies, that he gives people."

Evans adds that from the fire department's perspective, coal walking "is something we don't encourage or condone under any circumstances." However, he says, "we have a duty to service those in need regardless of whether we condone their actions; and that is just what we did."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.