Firefighter aims to heal children's burn trauma
By STEVEN N. LEVINE
[email protected]

HAINES CITY -- Firefighter Tracy Farmer is constantly battling the flames that often destroy homes and belongings, but she also is doing something about the tragic human remnants.

The Haines City Fire Department engineer will again this fall be a "burn buddy" to one of the grievously burned children, ages 6 to16, at a Central Florida youth camp. The free program, held in conjunction with the Florida Children's Burn Foundation, has room for at least eight Polk County children, Farmer said.

It's a rollicking place -- burn camp. The bungalows are full of hugs, first loves, giggles and jokes that only a burned child would appreciate. At the camp, children can trade their insecurities and scarred and bent limbs for the fun of staying up all night, smores and the chance to be just a normal kid for a few days. For once, no one stares -- no one cares.

"It is as rewarding for me as it is for them. I get more from them than I could ever return," Farmer said Sunday.

The cost per child is actually $1,500, but regional coordinators are responsible for raising donations. Last year, a Haines City-area teen-ager accidentally burned in a gasoline fire attended, Farmer said.

As terrible as serious burns are medically and emotionally, burn survivor Jerry Causey of Frostproof can't fathom how children live with the aftermath. In many cases, parents and trusted caregivers are the source of the offending lighter, scalding water or torch that will elicit a million screams over a lifetime.

That's why the location of the camp is a closely guarded secret.

More than a generation ago, Causey suffered serious burns to nearly half his body in an air crash near Atlanta. He considers himself lucky because most of the scarring is routinely covered by clothing. Causey recovered his body after two years of skin grafts and agonizing rehabilitative therapy, but there will always be a part of himself that goes missing.

"I was an adult with a family when it happened. I can't comprehend how it would be as a child the way kids treat each other," said Causey, who spent a couple of hours at last year's burn camp.

For more details about the burn camp, call the Children's Burn Foundation of Florida at (407) 741-4900.