By Tamika Matthews, The PentagramOctober 3, 2007
Fort Myer gave several young burn survivors the royal treatment Sept. 26. For the fourth year in a row, the installation fire department hosted a luncheon for children from the International Association of Fire Fighters National Children's Burn Camp in Washington.
Each year, the IAFF hosts young burn survivors and counselors from every burn camp in the United States and Canada for a weeklong visit to the National Capital Region. The trip gives them the chance to visit the capital's historic landmarks and spend time with local fire fighters.
The Fife and Drum corps kicked off the celebration with a short concert of several tunes. The U.S. Army Drill team followed with their first appearance ever at the luncheon and wowed the crowd with their skilled execution of bayonet maneuvers.
The day was topped off with a visit to the Caisson stables and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Four of the children had the chance to participate in the sacred event.
Kids were selected to lay wreaths based on their good behavior, counselor recommendations or if they expressed special interest. Linda French, IAFF Burn Foundation coordinator, said they also focus on children who are planning to join ROTC.
Jim Dansereau has been one of the driving forces behind the luncheon for three years. He does it out of great admiration for the children.
"The opportunity to work with these kids is such a personal high. There's no other way to describe it," he explained. "You get to see their faces and their smiles and have the chance to really talk to them and find out their stories."
French agreed. "They're still kids," she said. "They're just kids with an extra burden to bear."
French is involved with a burn camp as well and explained it is similar to traditional ones with horseback riding and other outdoor staples. "But there's also a focus on self-esteem issues, how to fit in with others and move forward with life," she said.
French said there were also two members of the Phoenix Society, an international group of burn survivors, on hand to speak to children. She explained as kids get older and move past the support burn camp offers, they need to learn other important skills to adapt to the real world.
"[They] are here to show them there are support groups out there and represent burn survivors in general," she said.
Jack Sample, 13, was one of the kids lucky enough to lay a wreath at Arlington. The California native felt it was a true honor to be able to do so. "The vast majority of people don't get to do something like this," he said. "It's ironic because with burns, you don't get the chance to do a lot, but this camp lets us have the chance to do crazy stuff."
Sample was burned at age 8 after a candle flame ignited a drinking straw he was holding. He panicked and dropped the straw on his shirt, resulting in his burns. Burn camp, he said, has given him the chance to regain some confidence in himself.
Brittany Bearden, a 16-year-old burn survivor visiting from Oklahoma, agreed. She said burn camp has helped her learn to deal with the public again after being burned in a tub of hot water at 10 months old.
"Being here helps you realize you're not alone," she said. "You meet other people that are burned and you see you're not the only one."
"It's good that they [other campers] understand what you're going through," added Jessica Martinez, 13, of Washington State.
Being a part of the experience allows each child to take home memories and plenty of new friends. 15-year-old Quran Wilson of Alabama, who was burned in a gas fire at age 7, felt the best part was meeting so many new people.
"I can now say I have buddies in Canada," said Sample. "It's a lot of fun."