JESSICA PATTERSON

Post courtesy of TwinCities.com

JESSICA PATTERSON

Location: Braham, MN

Date Of Injury: 2009

In late 2009, Jessica Patterson was burning cardboard boxes in her backyard with a friend. The two were planning on heading to a movie, so her friend used a gas can to speed up the process.

Patterson was about 4 feet away from the fire when it exploded.

“He threw the can on the on the fire, and (the fire) mushroomed up at me,” she explained. “In the next 30 minutes, I was rushed to the hospital by a helicopter.

“If it wasn’t for that helicopter, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Instead of a movie, Patterson spent the next two weeks in a coma, having suffered third-degree burns on her face, neck and right arm.

Patterson, now living in Bemidji, shared her story at a Department of Public Safety press conference Monday as part of the department’s campaign to raise awareness about fire safety.

The topic is all too familiar for Patterson, who spent just a month and a half recovering in the hospital. Others in the burn ward she was in were not as lucky, spending months recovering from multiple skin graft surgeries.

“I didn’t feel a lot of pain at first because I was in shock about what happened,” she said of fire. “All I could do was cry. It was more about the pain of waking up from a coma, having laid in bed for 14 days, that really hurt.”

Patterson called her burns “a blessing and a curse.” While she is thankful for the changes she has made in her life since the accident, there are lasting scars, physically and emotionally.

“I am asked constantly about what happened to me,” said the 23-year-old. “I get those looks every day, just because gas and fire does not mix. It is never a good idea.”

From that pain, though, comes growth. Patterson is transferring to Bemidji State University, where she will major in business administration marketing.

She said the support she got from her family and home community of Braham, Minn., was the key to her quick recovery, and her new outlook on life.

“If it weren’t for the accident, I would not be as close as I am to my sister and family,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone to school. There is some good that has happened because of it.”

PREVENTION

There are several safety precautions people can take when having a campfire or bonfire, state fire marshal Bruce West said, including some that would have spared Patterson from her accident.

West said those building campfires should only use paper or wood kindling to start the fire, or fire starters sold at camping supply stores.

“Never, ever use flammable liquids,” West said.

Keeping fires contained to fire pits, and keeping a safe distance around those pits, is crucial to preventing injuries, he said.

The DPS suggests fire pits be at least 25 feet away from any structures, and 6 feet away from any combustible materials. The pits themselves should be at least 3 feet in diameter, West said, and can be made of rocks, earth, metal or rubber.

He also said keeping kids away from campfires is especially important.

“Kids are full of energy,” West said. “They’ll be running around, maybe sometimes pushing each other… what we don’t want is one bad combination that means one of them is falling into a campfire.

“All it takes is a split second for a child to be having a fun time, then somebody falls into the fire and disaster strikes.”

Children are also still at risk after the fire appears to be out, said Dr. William Mohr, co-director of the Burn Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. He said the majority of child victims his unit sees suffer their injuries after the fire is put out.

“Eighty-five percent of children injured in campfires are injured the day after, not during the time of the fire,” he said. “People who think that letting the fire burn out, or smother it with sand, is enough … 12 hours later, those coals are still at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. That is enough to cause a third=degree burn as little Timmy and Susie are running around or tripping through the campfire.”

Adult supervision is not enough, Mohr said. The majority of adult burn victims Regions Hospital sees are men, and two-thirds of those patients are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the burn happens.

“You need to have responsible adults there to supervise,” Mohr said.