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Shriners Children's Boston Patient Emphasizes Fire Pit Safety During Summer

male patient with therapy dog

Sawyer smiles with a therapy dog at Shriners Children's Boston.

With children out of school for the summer, beach bonfires are a popular way for families and teens to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. However, Shriners Children’s Boston wants to remind everyone how quickly burn injuries can happen, especially around fire pits. A Shriners Children’s Boston patient wants to share his story with others in hopes that it can prevent other children from experiencing painful burn injuries.

A few years ago, Sawyer’s family set up a fire pit on the beach for his grandfather’s 85th birthday party. Sawyer was 10 years old at the time and his family took all necessary precautions, including having a permit for the fire and using a pit to keep the hot embers off the sand. After the party ended, the family extinguished the fire and moved the fire pit to safely dispose of the ashes. However, it was dark and Sawyer accidentally walked through the spot where the fire pit had been. The sand was still so hot that it caused severe burns on the bottom of his feet.

“I remember just feeling extreme pain and not really knowing what had happened,” said Sawyer. “Thankfully, my family heard me scream and from there everything moved quickly in terms of them calling the paramedics and me being flown to the hospital. When I got to Shriners Children’s, I remember the first person I met was named Wally. He was one of the best nurses I’ve ever met and really made me feel like it would all be OK. It was such a significant burn that I had to go through months of physical therapy at Shriners Children’s in order to even be able to walk again. But they did an amazing job helping me every step of the way until I was completely recovered.”

Sawyer said the care that Shriners Children’s provided him went beyond the typical hospital experience. Physical therapy, psychiatrists and even opportunities to work with pet therapy dogs while learning to manage the pain were available. Shriners Children’s organized a school reintegration program when Sawyer was able to return to school, which helped with the nervousness of returning to that environment after the accident.

Sawyer said his experience has given him and his family a mission – to help prevent injuries like his from happening to other kids. He said that since his accident, he’s met and heard about several other kids who have had similar burn injuries due to beach bonfires. He also has worked with local firefighters and paramedics, brainstorming new ways to prevent these types of injuries from happening.

“I know my family and I really thought we were taking all of the necessary precautions before the accident happened, so I think there’s a lot of people who can learn from our situation in terms of best fire safety practices,” said Sawyer. “For me, one of the biggest lessons we learned was that sand can absorb and hold the heat even after the fire is gone, so it’s really important to mark where the fire was. I know a lot of people also like to build fires directly in the sand and then bury them afterward, but that can also lead to people accidentally stepping on a spot that’s still hot, even hours after the fire is out. I always tell people to mark the spot with a flag so people know to watch out for it.”

Here are some additional tips to keep beach fire pits safe:

  • Make sure the fire pit and fire pit area is never left unattended.
  • Pour cold water on the hot sand after you are finished with the fire pit.
  • Do not add more sand in an attempt to extinguish the fire or get rid of the heat, as sand is a great insulator of heat.
  • Keep beach fires 50 feet away from seagrass and other flammable materials.
  • Mark the spot where you had your fire pit with flags or other markers.

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