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Sedona firefighter Buzz Lechowski buzzed around Camp Courage 2007, Arizona Children’s Burn Camp, on Thursday, June 21, in the Sedona Fire District’s golf cart, the Ranger.
By Trista Steers
Larson Newspapers

Sedona firefighter Buzz Lechowski buzzed around Camp Courage 2007, Arizona Children’s Burn Camp, on Thursday, June 21, in the Sedona Fire District’s golf cart, the Ranger.

Firefighters Ryan and Matt Fischer took turns hopping from the back of the cart and scurrying around the grounds filling water stations.

They’re the water boys, Matt Fischer said.

Lechowski, the Fischers and three other SFD firefighters — Ed Mezulis, Matt Fleece and Tim Kreigel — spent a week in Prescott National Forest volunteering at the camp.

“The Sedona boys bring so much support. Without them, we’d be floundering,” Nan Edens, Foundation for Burns and Trauma programs manager, said.

Arizona Children’s Burn Camp, a Foundation for Burns and Trauma program, is a week of fun in the forest for burn survivors from 5 to 20 years old.

Small children walked hand in hand in groups along camp paths laughing, smiling and enjoying themselves as any kid at summer camp would.

Phoenix Fire Department firefighter Bobby St. John said camp is a safe place where survivors don’t have to worry about stares or questions.

St. John, also a burn survivor, helped found the camp in 1991.

“The need was there,” St. John said. Arizona sent burn survivors to camps in other states instead of putting on its own.

St. John attended burn camp in Denver, Colo., as a kid after he was burned 20 years ago.

When St. John was 13 years old, he was burned while using gasoline to burn trash — a chore — in Flagstaff. Emergency crews flew St. John from Flagstaff to the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix.

St. John spent a month

following the accident in the hospital and underwent 30 surgeries in the next three years.

“You feel pretty isolated when you’re burned,” St. John said. The purpose of camp is to bring survivors together.

“You feel like you belong to a group,” St. John said.

Campers participate in a wide array of activities including mountain bike riding, horseback riding, rappelling and crafts.

One night, volunteers set up a giant movie screen in a playing field and campers rolled out their sleeping bags, ate popcorn and watched movies into the night.

Mezulis, outdoor activity coordinator, took campers on hikes and encouraged them to connect with nature.

Thursday night, a parade featuring floats created by campers lined the camp’s main road. Parade festivities were followed by a talent show.

Fleece, who has volunteered at the camp since it started, organized BB-gun shooting.

Camp is a stress release for Fleece while giving him perspective on life.

“It makes me realize how fragile we are,” Fleece said.

SFD firefighters volunteer on their own time. Vacation time and traded shifts make it possible for them to return year after year.

Matt Fischer, a three-year volunteer, traded two shifts and took one day of vacation to help out.

“It’s worth it,” Fischer said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

St. John said volunteer compassion helps campers transform from burn victims to burn survivors.

“You have all the volunteers here who are opening their hearts up to these kids,” St. John said.

After a burn, people are left with not only physical scars, but emotional scars as well, according to St. John. Self-esteem takes a big hit during recovery, which camp helps to rebuild.

“Before I went [to camp], I felt like I was alone. It was easier to feel sorry for myself,” St. John said. Seeing other kids in his situation diminished his self-pity.

“[At camp] you’re just a normal kid again,” St. John said.


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