This is the subscribe section

Joe Brooker

Aiming to Make a Difference – On the August long weekend in 2007 I was in Victoria playing in a soccer tournament and spending quality time with teammates and friends. When I went to bed on the Sunday night, life was good.

I woke up around 4am Monday as my neighbour was shouting at me to get out of my bedroom. A hot coal had caused the fire from a hookah pipe that had been used earlier in the night to smoke flavoured tobacco. The hookah had tipped over, and while two of the five survivors were sleeping on nearby couches, the coal sat smoldering for an hour and a half before catching fire to one of the couches, producing an extremely hot and fast spreading blaze.

My confusion turned to shock as I noticed the smoke. My room had been cut off from the rest of the house and an open door had created a back draft. I couldn’t feel pain from the flames as I struggled to slide open the window that had already become warped from the heat. It wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t see a thing. Getting low didn’t provide much relief or oxygen. Running through the hallway and out the other side of the house was not an option so I knew the window was the only way out.

The flames and dark smoke had taken over the house and it was incredibly loud. I managed to slide open the window but wasn’t able to lift myself up to climb out of it as it was at head-height and, despite the adrenaline, I didn’t have the strength. After a few attempts I was able to cling on to the ledge and was helped out by my neighbour and one of my friends who had managed to get out of the house minutes before. I stumbled to the lawn and lay down. I woke up, probably minutes later, and walked across the road further away from the heat. I remember being really confused by how surreal it was. I noticed the people who had come out of their houses gathering around as I looked in the crowd for my friends in a panic – worried that everyone might not have made it out safely.

I don’t remember much after this point but fire trucks and ambulances arrived and I was taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital. The excruciatingly painful ambulance ride was the last thing I remembered until I woke up a couple of days later in the intensive care unit. It was then that I was notified that my friends Brenna Innes and Chelsea Robinson had not survived the house fire. Brenna and Chelsea were fantastic girls, to say the least – and this news was impossible to deal with – and made even harder by not being able to talk due to the ventilator that was utilized due to smoke damage. Being unable to attend their funerals later in the week really hurt.

I sustained second and third degree burns to 16% of my body – mostly on my back and arms. After two days in ICU, I was moved to the burn unit. The professionals that helped me during my 11 days at Royal Jubilee provided me with a profound sense of appreciation and the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I doubt the doctors and nurses could have done any more for me – they were amazing. Equally important were the actions of my family and friends who helped me through each day as I began my emotional and physical recovery.

It is now four years after the fire and while I still have a lot more processing to do family and friends continue to help me along the road, as has my recent involvement with the BC Adult Burn Community. Meeting Ann Coombs has made a hugely positive influence on my life – she gently pushes me along a sometimes difficult, but very right and necessary path. I recently finished a year of counseling which was huge in providing me with an outlet and some perspective that comes with time. These counseling sessions were key towards my forward progression.

My burns have been fully healed for a couple of years now. They are a reminder that life is good, and that I can make a difference in the lives of others – like doctors and nurses do every day. Moving forward, I am driven to promote fire safety and awareness, and my career goal is to work as a physiotherapist at a hospital. My involvement in the BC Adult Burn Community continues to be instrumental to my healing. Meeting other burn survivors during events such as the Dirty Apron cooking class, the Vancouver Canadians baseball game and BC Burn Camp have been very important and uplifting experiences. I am thankful for The Future Is Mine and very proud to be one of the SHARE Representatives, which allows me to serve others as well as provide a greater understanding of the value of the BCPFF Burn Fund and their programs that give so much support to the burn survivors.