Goldstream News Gazette Article
Advocating for fire safety
By Andrea Lavigne
John Westhaver doesn’t remember dragging himself from a burning car. In fact, he doesn’t remember the entire month that followed the night of April 29, 1994. Westhaver, 30, was the passenger in a car crash that ended up killing three people and leaving 75 per cent of his body covered in burns. “The burns were so severe they induced me into a coma,” he said. He eventually woke up to the reality of his situation.
“I was in a hospital. I couldn’t move. I hurt all over. My skin still felt like it was on fire,” he said. The recovery has been slow-he’s had almost 40 operations, and there’s more to come. Westhaver recently moved to Victoria and devotes his free time to speaking with students and volunteering with the Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund of Victoria and Peer Support Group for Burn Survivors. Each year, the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund focuses on a unique fire safety issue for Burn Awareness Week, held Feb. 5-11 this year. The message for 2006 is matches and lighters are tools, not toys.
Westhaver is often called upon to relate fire safety messages to students. His presentation usually makes a big impact. “They get to see what happens and what you go through,” he said. Terry Abrams, chair of the Burn Awareness Week Program and the director of the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, said kids are naturally curious about fire. The trick, said Abrams, is to recognize that curiosity and teach mature children how to use fire responsibly. The program advocates teaching children how to light the fireplace, campfire, or candles, with one caveat: matches and lighters are used under adult supervision only.
Abrams said this helps satisfy their curiosity and reduces the risk that they’ll experiment with fire on their own. “It takes away the forbidden fruit aspect.” Abrams said the message is crucial because the problem is common. “There is a high incidence of fire play in our community,” he said. “The vast number aren’t reported.” In the past five years, there have been 393 reports of fires set by juveniles in BC. Of those, 19 ended in injury or death. Greg Batters, Victoria representative for the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, said summer and Halloween are typically when most incidents occur. “A lot of the time we get to situations before they get out of control,” he said. A program called the Junior Fire-setters Program was developed to help educate kids caught playing with fire. If possible, both parents and the child meet with firefighters and watch a video about fire safety. Sometimes a burn survivor is brought in to speak with the child. Westhaver has been involved with a number of interventions through the Junior Fire-setters Program. “The kids can see I didn’t always look like this,” he said. “A lot of parents say, ‘Thank you. You’ve just taught my child something I couldn’t do.’” For safety tips and more information on the Burn Awareness Program, parents and teachers can visit www.burnfund.org. To book a speaking engagement with John Westhaver, visit www.jmmspeaking.com.
This article was taken from “Goldstream News Gazette” 2006.