ROCKLAND — One of the things about burn injuries for kids is that scar tissue doesn’t grow, according to David “Rico” Petruccelli, Portland firefighter and founder of Maine Fire and Ice Camp. The children will return to medical facilities multiple times throughout their youth for surgeries and range-of-motion therapy.
“For these kids, it’s always there,” he said. “Every time they have a growth spurt, it’s something they have to worry about.”
Scar tissue around joints are especially problematic, as is trauma to the face and neck. But the follow-up medical appointments can be worked into a family’s schedule so it’s not too invasive into a child’s education.
For those attending the four-day Winter Burn Camp – including one full day at Camden Snow Bowl and Rockland Fire Department – the two days missed from school is all about therapeutic fun with others in the same situation.
Friday, Jan. 17, this year’s 21 campers, ages 10 to 18, fought an undercurrent of exhaustion during their evening pizza party at Rockland FD. They’d just spent a day of skiing through single-digit temperatures, brisk winds, and the usual stares of curious strangers; all preceded by the previous day’s travel to the camp from Virginia, Maryland, DC area, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
“They must have stayed up too late last night and talked, getting caught up,” said Petruccelli. “The skiing and the wind today, I think wore them out a little bit.”
Yet, inside with their peers and the gentle counseling of the volunteer adults traveling with them, the group was at ease while devouring pizza and soda donated from South End Grocery. Dominoes and the local Fire Fighters’ Union rounded out the meal with drinks, chips, and ice cream bars.
Even the girl who’d fallen while skiing and ended up in the Pen Bay emergency department appeared good-natured.
“They’re super resilient,” said Petruccelli. “They still have the same tendencies as any other teens, any other kids who are testing limits and pushing buttons. “Being a young person growing up is hard enough for all of us,” said Petruccelli. “So, when you have visual scarring, when you have amputations or other injuries, it’s nice to have somebody else you can share those same stories with.”
After dining, the kids toured the fire trucks and the station before returning to Portland, and two more days of go-karts, horseback riding, and as needed, the counseling of friends and volunteers for how to deflect the stares and assumptions of a general public.
“We’re trying to give them a healthy environment to let them had time to be around each other,” he said. “A lot of them, for their communities, they might be the only person who’s a burn survivor. Things like this give them that network and peer support they need.”
The group was smaller this year, despite six new faces. Several of last year’s campers had aged out of the program. In the future, some may return as counselors, as was the case this year with a couple counselors who’d been campers at a time when the burn camp remained in the Midcoast for two days instead of one – staying the night at local lodgings and dining out en mass in restaurants.
Along with them, were new counselors from D.C. and Scarborough fire departments, as well as others who volunteered for just the skiing while a couple other counselors were sidelined with injuries.
On the Snow Bowl slopes, while wearing required helmets and gear, the kids were free to soar – and fall, and for some: to experience snow for the first time.
In the Rockland Fire Station, they were free to be as one body, for a time, where everyone is the same.
“A very good turnout and overall another amazing time with some awesome children,” said Rockland FD pizza party organizer Carl Anderson. “Can’t wait for next year.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org