Burn Camp changes firefighter’s perspective

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—What began as an outing to lift the spirits of young people proved to be among a local firefighter’s most rewarding experiences.

Michael Bradshaw, who is also an emergency medical technician with Franklin Fire & Rescue, was selected to be a counselor at the Central Virginia Burn Camp, held recently at Camp Holiday Trails in Charlottesville.

&uot;Originally, I thought I was going to help these kids,&uot; he said. &uot;What ended up happening was they helped me.

&uot;They made me realize that maybe I wasn’t doing the right activities with my son — and that I have been taking life too seriously sometime.&uot;

He heard of the camp from a member of the Suffolk Local International Association of Firefighters, or IAFF, and had applied last year but was not chosen.

&uot;They had so many return counselors the first year I applied, I was turned down,&uot; he said.

The free camp is for youth ages 7 to 17, with a goal, according to the camp’s Web site, to &uot;meet the special needs of young burn survivors, and to provide an environment which stimulates his/her curiosity, leading to the exploration of issues with other burned children.&uot;

According to Bradshaw, the children attending the camp have varying degrees of injury.

&uot;Some had returned to camp,&uot; he said. &uot;Others are still wearing compression garments.

&uot;Some of them stand out with their injuries. Camp gives them one week where they are like everyone else.&uot;

Counselors are assigned to the same one or two campers during the week, and campers are grouped with other kids with similar injuries when possible.

Bradshaw’s teammate was 15-year-old Malik Jackson, who lives in Washington, D.C. Jackson is a survivor of a scald incident, turning over a boiling pot when he was a youngster.

&uot;He hardly remembers the accident,&uot; said Bradshaw.

Counselors, who are primarily nurses, professional firefighters, physical and occupational

therapists, arrived at the camp a day earlier than the participants, training for five hours on how to deal with the children emotionally and another three hours on how to conduct team-building activities for the youth.

Counselors receive medical charts on their campers so that they are aware of any special needs and medications needing to be administered.

&uot;I know what my camper needed and the extent of his injuries,&uot; Bradshaw said. &uot;We become responsible for them for a week.

&uot;We weren’t there to be looked upon so much as a guardian but more like a friend.&uot;

In a world without cell phones and iPods, the week included more down-to-earth activities such as rope courses, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, camping and crafts, with a flag-raising and -lowering ceremony each day. Guest speakers, a dance, and culminating variety show on which members of each cabin presented were also highlights.

A daylong trip was provided by Aluminum Cans For Burn Children, or AC/BC, an organization that collects scrap metal. Its donation allowed campers to enjoy visiting Water Country USA.

&uot;It was the greatest day for the kids,&uot; Bradshaw said. &uot;They had the freedom to choose their own activities for the whole day.&uot;

The local unions fund various parts of the camp through monetary donations, cooking meals, repairing plumbing or other provisions.

&uot;Firefighters from all over the state find ways to make this (camp) happen,&uot; said Bradshaw. &uot;Franklin local worked my shifts and paid my expenses to go to the camp.&uot;

He is already looking forward to next year, noting that he will apply again.

&uot;I hope I can get people more aware of it and do some kind of one-day camp here,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve already been thinking of ways to raise money for the (Central Virginia) camp.&uot;

Anyone interested in more information may contact Bradshaw at 653-7291 or by e-mail at mbradshaw@franklinva.com. The Web site for the Central Virginia Burn Camp is