Location: Pasadena, Texas
Date: October 30, 1988
Children are never too young to start learning life saving techniques. You never know when a child might be the only one around in a moment of crisis. That moment came for 10-year-old Jacob Walsh in a quiet residential neighborhood in Pasadena, Texas on October 30, 1988.
David Parker will never forget that Sunday morning. "He looked at me and said, 'Daddy, is this a dream?' and I said, 'I sure wish it was,'" remembers David. The Parkers and the Walshes had lived next door to each other for years. On this day, like so many others, their sons were playing together in the Parkers' backyard. "I was just walking around the house, drinking my coffee, and Jacob and Kale were in the backyard, on the patio playing. They were playing with the volcano," said Kathy.
Her 8-year-old son Kale's model volcano was built with the help of his father as a science project. "They poured baking soda in the top of it, and they're supposed to see how it erupts. Next thing I knew, they were jumping the fence, because Jacob lives next door," remembers Kathy.
They wanted to use Jacob's skateboard ramp as a platform for the volcano. "We just got it and brought it over to my backyard, and set it on the middle of the ramp," said Jacob. "You got any matches?" asked Kale. "Yeah, I've got some," replied Jacob. Neither boy was allowed to use matches. "We got a match, just put it in there, and burned leaves," said Jacob. The boys kept trying to get a fire started in the volcano, using matches and leaves, while Jacob's grandmother worked just inside the house. "I was washing dishes, and I knew they were playing out in the backyard. I mean, they did that all the time," remembers Mrs. Walsh.
As Kale prepared the volcano, Jacob found a can of gasoline and brought it out to the ramp. "This is gonna be awesome!" exclaimed Kale. Jacob poured the gasoline onto the smoldering leaves, when suddenly they heard a loud bang. Kale started screaming in pain. "I called for Terry as I went out the back door," said Mrs. Walsh. "I just chased after him and rolled him on the ground," said Jacob sadly. "I just stood there. I couldn't move!" said Mrs. Walsh when she heard Kale's screams for help.
"When I was in kindergarten, I remembered the stop, drop, and roll. So I just rolled him over, and he wouldn't do so. If I wouldn't have rolled him over, he would've died," said Jacob. "I heard some screaming, but he wasn't on fire anymore. He was telling me, 'Terry, I'm on fire, I'm on fire!'. So I told Jacob, 'Run and get David,'" said Mr. Walsh. Jacob ran next door to get Kale's father. "He couldn't even speak, he was so white. My son, I never saw him in so much pain. I felt helpless, I couldn't really do anything for him," said David. He then explained to Kathy that Kale got burned. "He was very terrified. A mother knows their child's cry. It was very different," said Kathy.
Kathy's call for help came in at 9:45am. "I said, 'My son is burned. He's in pain. I need an ambulance. Hurry up, get here now.' And that's when they told me to put cold water on him," remembers Kathy. "I just tried to comfort him. Usually you can take care of your kid's pain and stuff. But with something like this, you can't," said David.
Pasadena police officers were on the scene within three minutes. "My heart was going 90 miles an hour. I just didn’t want him to be in pain. When he was quiet, I could calm down, but when he started reacting, I reacted with him," said Kathy.
Paramedics James Kelton and Mark Donavan arrived less than two minutes later. "I think when paramedics and EMTs deal with children, everybody gets a little nervous, a little uptight. You usually get adults who can tell you what’s wrong and how they’re feeling. But when you get children, they’re scared, and they just want to be with Mom or Dad," said James. "I did notice the unique smell of burned flesh, which if you’ve never smelled burned flesh before, it is a unique scent that you will not soon forget. Burns were concentrated on his legs, and I believe his left arm and his left ear, and a portion of his neck. It looked like somebody had just come and peeled away a piece of skin, exposing what was left," remembers Mark.
James and Mark then proceeded to help relieve the pain of Kale’s burns. "We basically made a sandwich out of him, using what we call sterile burn sheets. We doused them down with sterile water. We felt that that would be best for reducing the pain, and put out any fire that remained burning in the tissue," explained Mark.
Mark and James then put Kale into the ambulance while continuing to work on him. "When they poured the water on Kale’s legs, he was all right for approximately a second to a minute, but then he would just start screaming. I begged them to give him something for pain, but they said they couldn’t," said Kathy sadly.
Kale was rushed to a nearby parking lot, where a special helicopter landing zone had been set up. "I was scared. I thought it was my fault, because I poured the gasoline in there and I burned him," said Jacob remorsefully. "I had asked them, 'Can I go with him?' and the person who was behind Kale shook his head. Then Kale started getting up off of the stretcher and said, 'If my mama can’t go with me, I’m not going!' This one Life Flight nurse hugged me and said, 'We’ll take care of him.' She said there was no room on the helicopter for me. I felt like dying. I was thinking, 'He’s probably terrified.' I mean, I felt worse not being with him than I did being with him and not being able to help him," remembers Kathy.
The flight to Herman Hospital in Houston took less than 12 minutes. Dr. Donald Parks, a leading burn expert, was waiting to treat Kale. "There is no doubt that the burn injury is the most devastating type of injury that the human body can sustain," said Dr. Parks. "I recall that Kale was very panicky, but he coped very well, and he cooperated with our requests," said Dr. Parks. "Kale, how old are you?" asked a doctor. "Nine," replied Kale. "I noted that he had extensive burns, including ones to his ear, back, both arms, and very deep burns to both legs. Many of the burns were third-degree, destroying the layers of skin," Dr. Parks remembers.
Doctors proceeded to clean the burns, which prevents contamination to the burn wounds that can lead to infection. "He was wrapped in bandages from head to toe. He looked like a mummy. He had tubes everywhere, and he looked up at me and his dad, and he said, 'Am I gonna be in trouble for this?,' and at that point, I had to walk out of the room," remembers Kathy. “You think kids know better. I know Kale knew better, and I know Jacob knew better. But they think they had it under control. They were probably thinking, 'Oh, I know it’s bad to do this, but we can play with it and not get hurt.' But evidently they can’t," said David.
In the year and a half since Kale’s injuries, he's undergone a series of painful skin grafts. Fire Marshal Bill Yearout believes that Kale survived because his friend, Jacob, acted quickly and knew what to do. "When a person catches himself on fire, of course he panics, and he’s going to run. The technique of stop, drop, and roll saves lives, and this is the reason that this boy’s here today," Bill said matter-of-factly. “If he didn’t know stop, drop, and roll, I wouldn’t be alive right now. I’d just keep on burning," said Kale.
Jacob’s mother is proud of her son, and grateful to the people who helped prevent a tragedy by teaching stop, drop, and roll. "I have to give thanks to our fire department, and the time they put into teaching the kids the stop, drop, and roll method at school. If it saved one life, it’s worth all the time that those people put into it," says Mrs. Walsh. "He has scars, and they’ll be there with him the rest of his life. Every time he looks at them, he’ll know where they came from, and he’ll recall the experience," says Dr. Parks. "I tell other kids, 'Never play with matches or gasoline, and not do anything that you know would hurt you unless your parents are there.' And now that it’s over with, I’m just going to do the best in everything I can do," says Kale.