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Firefighters lead Fill the Boot campaign to raise funds for UCI Health burn center

Thanksgiving weekend effort supports camp for young burn survivors

November 24, 2014

Every fall for the past 18 years, Capt. Darren De Fluiter from the Costa Mesa Fire Department spends a weekend at the Costa Mesa Fairgrounds – Orange County Marketplace. He leads a group of Costa Mesa firefighters and students from the Santa Ana College Fire Science Program as they collect donations from holiday shoppers to benefit the UCI Health Regional Burn Center.

The department’s annual Fill the Boot campaign, which raises about $5,000 each year, will support activities for young burn patients such as holiday parties and trips to special camps for burn survivors. De Fluiter estimates that, over the years, Fill the Boot has raised about $125,000.

Fill the Boot returns to the fairgrounds Thanksgiving weekend, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 29 and Sunday, Nov. 30.

“We have many repeat donors that expect to see us at the holiday time,” De Fluiter said. “Firefighters will come by, too, and talk to people. Even the vendors know us.”

This year, burn center staff will hand out tips to Marketplace visitors on ways to prevent burn injuries at home.

The UCI Health Regional Burn Center was among the nation’s first comprehensive burn centers when it opened more than 40 years ago. The center annually treats more than 600 patients for burns of all kinds.

“The number one cause of burns in kids are scalds, from things like hot water or hot soup,” said burn program manager Jennifer Cash. One-third of the center’s patients are children, mostly under the age of 5, she said. Half of the patients admitted to the burn intensive care unit have scald injuries.

Recovery can be a long and difficult. To help, the burn center sends about 10 young patients each year to special pediatric burn camps in Big Bear and Colorado, Cash said.

Dr. Victor C. Joe, the burn center’s director, said Fill the Boot helps continue the healing process.

“Our role in treating burn patients is only part of what they need to heal, especially the children who suffer burns. They need continued support and care,” Joe said. “The money raised goes a long way toward helping our young patients learn to enjoy life again. They make friends at camp that they can relate to and have fun with.”

“We are so grateful to the Costa Mesa firefighters and all the donors for their continued support of Fill the Boot,” he added.

Cash said campers enjoy activities like swimming, horseback riding, theater programs and taking nature walks.

“These camps are special. They are fully equipped to deal with burn-injured children, physically and emotionally,” she said. “They make sure the kids wear their garments, and the organizers have therapists and psychologists on hand.

“There’s a healing process, and it’s a life-changer for these kids. They don’t have to deal with the stares. They can play and not be self-conscious about the scarring,” Cash said. “They are on a level playing field and they make life-long friends.”

Several years ago, Costa Mesa’s Capt. De Fluiter visited a burn camp for kids and it left a positive impression he says has stayed with him.

“Our department is committed to participating with this program forever,” he said.

Photo: Jennifer Cash, program manager at the UCI Health Regional Burn Center, and Costa Mesa Fire Capt. Darren De Fluiter, with Santa and his helper at last year's Fill the Boot campaign.