Lassa Column: WAFS Works to Prevent Fires and Help Survivors
By State Senator Julie Lassa
On October 8, I had the chance to attend the annual awards luncheon of the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety.
WAFS has played a leadership role in supporting a ban on the sales of novelty lighters to minors, a bill I introduced to prevent cigarette lighters that look like toys from falling into the hands of children. I was proud to accept their Legislator of the Year Award, and had the chance to learn more about this important organization.
The history of WAFS began in 1987, during a horrific 15-day period in which three fires in Milwaukee took the lives of 20 people, including 17 children. One of those fires, in which 12 people died, was the deadliest single residential fire in Wisconsin history. A task force formed in the wake of the tragedies determined that a public education campaign on fire safety, one that especially targeted young people, was called for. WAFS was organized to fulfill that mission, and was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 1992.
Today, WAFS works with colleges and non-profit organizations to produce and distribute burn prevention and fire safety education materials through K-12 schools. These help children learn to identify fire hazards in their home, know the importance of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and find out how to protect themselves if they are in a house fire. WAFS has also been a leader in educating Wisconsin citizens about the state’s carbon monoxide detector laws and how to remain safe from this deadly toxin.
The organization’s role extends beyond education, however. For 20 years, WAFS has sponsored the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth, a statewide effort that enables kids from 7 to 17 who are overcoming serious burn injuries to enjoy a summer camp experience that is designed to meet their unique needs. While they have fun boating, swimming, hiking, making crafts, and all the other traditional summer camp activities, burn survivors make friends with other young people who face the same challenges they do.
It’s an important experience for young burn survivors, who often have to overcome extensive surgeries and rehabilitation that can isolate them from other young people. The WAFS Summer Camp provides a network of support and encouragement that builds self-esteem and helps these children discover life beyond their burn injuries. Building on the success of the Summer Camp, WAFS also offers a Winter Leadership Program to provide older kids with mutual support and a chance to help younger burn survivors by developing Summer Camp activities.
At the luncheon, I learned that changes in the way young burn survivors receive medical care has inadvertently reduced the number of referrals to the Summer Camp. I’d like to encourage health care providers who work with these young people, as well as the families and friends of young burn survivors, to consider the tremendous experience that the WAFS Summer Camp has to offer. To learn more about the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety, the great work they do, and how you can support their efforts to prevent needless death and injury and help survivors, visit their website at www.wafs.org.