By Chelsea Place, Pentagram Staff WriterOctober 6, 2011
On the afternoon of Sept. 27, two buses carrying ordinary kids, each with their own extraordinary story, rolled up to the front of the Fort Myer Fire Department seconds after truck 161 responded to a call. The call left only a few crew members behind to play host to the 8th annual visit from the International Association of Fire Fighters Burn Camp.
Campers and counselors of the weeklong event lasting from Sept. 24-30, stayed at the campgrounds of Edgewater, Md., while they visited various sites in and around Washington D.C., from going to a Nationals game, visiting Fort Myer, and touring the monuments, Capitol, IAFF headquarters, Mount Vernon and the Naval Academy.
"Burns can leave scars that never heal and emotional wounds that no medical care can repair," said Harold Schaitberger, IAFF general president and chair of the IAFF foundation, in a press release. "The burn camp helps teenage burn survivors cope with their trauma by allowing them to spend time in a supportive atmosphere rooted in their shared experience."
Statistics show that more than 500,000 people suffer burn injuries each year in North America. Seventy-five percent of burns to children 4 years old and younger are scalds, 4,000 people die from fire and burn injuries each year in the U.S. and an estimated 2,500 children attend burn camps each year.
"I've met a lot of new people [with] a lot of inspiring stories," said Solara Jaafar, 15, a camp member from Hyattsville, Md. "Everyone is just great. It's an honor [to be selected]."
The camp has been around for 16 years and first partnered with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall when former Fort Myer Fire Chief Charles Campbell formed a relationship between his department and the burn camp.
"As firefighters we can do something nice [and give] back to burn survivors," said James Dansereau, fire inspector for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and 16th district Burn Foundation coordinator. He said it's very rewarding for those at the fire station because firefighters don't always get to see the victims after they are saved and have begun healing.
This year, 43 campers and 43 counselors from across North America descended upon the National Capital Region to enjoy a week of fun and festivities. The group enjoyed watching the Washington Nationals play the Atlanta Braves and visiting various monuments in the D.C. area on Sept. 25.
"I have never been to a baseball game before. Seeing that stadium was overwhelming," said Sarah Seaboyer, 16, who hails from Canada. "Coming in and seeing all those people and getting to watch it -- it was awesome."
Even for local campers the experience provided new insight into the National Capital Region. "Even though I live here, I haven't seen those [Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials]," said Brad Smothers, 14.
As part of their trip, attendees had the opportunity to experience various aspects of JBM-HH. Before coming on post, campers, counselors and coordinators visited Arlington National Cemetery where a few campers were given the opportunity to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there they piled into buses to tour the base. They ate lunch and enjoyed a performance by the Fife and Drum Corps and got to meet Louie, a 7-year-old therapy rottweiler, before heading off to the Caisson stables to see the horses.
"It [laying the wreath] was kind of cool because I thought it was something [my dad would] be proud of me for," said Joe Alberhasky, 14, whose father returned from deployment a few weeks ago. Alberhasky, who attends Camp Foster in Iowa during the summer, had never been on a plane before. He said it wasn't a bad experience.
Though it wasn't just the campers who were experiencing all the sights for the first time, Randy Jarell, a camp counselor and a firefighter from Henrico County Division of Fire in Maryland, had never visited Arlington National Cemetery before.
"I have a lieutenant that works in my department at Henrico," said Jarrell. "He was an Airman in the Air Force that was a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I had heard all about it and now I've seen it."
"You can tell [the people] who have done it, the way they carry themselves -- [exuding] a different manner for the rest of their life," said Jarrell.
Before leaving the event, Deputy Joint Base Commander Lt. Col. Jennifer Leigh Blair and Command Sgt. Maj. Necati Akpinar presented commander coins to two burn camp teenagers, Derrick Brit, 13, from the U.S., and Seaboyer, from Canada.
Blair explained the significance of the commander's coins in the Army, while Akpinar joked with Seaboyer when presenting her with the coin, telling her if she comes back without it she has to buy everyone a soda.
"I didn't expect to get it, but I'm glad I did," said Seaboyer, who sustained her burns at one-and-a-half years old. She pulled on a table cloth when her grandma wasn't looking and had hot tea pour over her from head to toe.
Campers coming from most of the 50 burn camps around North America represent a variety of states and provinces.
"They come from 30 different states and six different provinces around North America," said Tony Burke, burn camp director, IAFF Burn Foundation.
To follow the camp and experience what they went through, check out the trips blog at the IAFF blog site blog.iaff.org.