I was 18, a recent high school graduate, almost starting my dream of attending college. I grew up poor and one of the youngest of 13 kids. Life was tough…or so I thought. I never imagined that my life could be worse! It was a Monday evening, around 9pm. I was working at my minimum wage job, which I had done for the past 2 years. Nothing seemed different about that night. I was excited to meet up with friends after work. Unfortunately, this unimaginably frightening night would prove to be anything but normal. This night left me fighting for my life! I was burned almost 70% of my body (35% 3rd degree) in a gas explosion and fire. Little did I know, I would have less than a 20% chance to survive. Thankfully, fire sprinklers did their job…they saved my life, gave me a chance to live, and activated before I could think.
I worked at a large downtown parking garage and gas station. The storage tanks for the gas were 4 levels down, under the parking garage. After every delivery to the gas station, it was my job to take “stick readings”. I drove an electric golf cart. I had no idea that the fumes from the gas delivery were at an unsafe level. Once I finished the readings, I took off on the golf cart, which instantly sparked the fumes. In a split second, it set off an explosion and fire. According to reports, it reached 1,200 degrees. By some miracle, and after the sprinklers put the fire out, I was somehow able to walk (or run?) up the 4 levels and over a block, to the parking garage cashier, who called for help.
I spent several months in the burn unit, underwent countless and extremely painful surgeries, skin grafts and therapy. I had to learn how to walk again. My hands are permanently damaged and did not work much for six months. It took over 2 years before I finished with surgeries. With gratitude to so many wonderful people, I was blessed to attend college and I went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work. I have enjoyed a 30+ year career, working in several Non-Profits and local hospitals, helping thousands of people cope with their own struggles. I recently served as an Education Director for a burn support non-profit. Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor, teaching a graduate level Social Work course. I serve as a Fire Sprinkler and Burn Safety Advocate. Furthermore, I am most grateful that fire sprinklers saved my life, as I am a proud parent of 3 kids (a Medical student, a NCAA D2 athlete, and my youngest is Student Body President). My burn trauma and scars (visible and hidden), only tell a small fraction my story. I am living proof that sprinklers save lives. Join me in continuing to save lives TOGETHER!