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Burn camp a healing place for victims and firefighters



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September 08, 2010 | 08:37 AM
East Troy — Samantha Paton looks like any other 14-year-old at camp, sitting under a tree and sucking on snow cone.

But Paton, of Sussex, was badly burned on her back when she was 2.

And this camp isn't any camp. It's the annual Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth at Camp Timberlee sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety. Timberlee is on 600 acres near the southern part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest near East Troy.

Paton she's been coming to the camp for nine years.

"I would not go a year without coming to camp," Paton said.

The best part of camp is "making new friends and having friends who know what you go through every day," Paton said.

Paton said she can talk about common problems and share stories with her friends who also suffered severe burns that she can't discuss or share with friends who have never had that experience.

This year's free camp had 67 campers, and 52 fulltime volunteers showed for camp, said Dan Gengler, chairman of the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety.

This year's camp ran from Aug. 14 to 21. The kids are between the ages of 7 and 17.

Most of the campers are referred by either Children's Hospital of Wisconsin or the University of Wisconsin Hospital.

Any child who has been treated serious burns is eligible to participate, even those living outside Wisconsin.

Gengler, of Waupaca, is a retired firefighter who spent 26˝ years with the City of Milwaukee Fire Department. He said the camp, now in its 15th year, has spent 12 of those years coming to Timberlee.

Activities for campers include boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, waterslide, horseback riding, sports, art and crafts, and Harley-Davidson motorcycle rides.

The goal is to make the camp unnecessary,Gengler said.

Perhaps a good sign is that the number of youngsters attending the camp has decreased over the past few years.

Gengler said that for the first few years, the number of campers grew as news of its existence spread.

In 2001, the number of campers hit a high of 95, and the numbers have been going down ever since, Gengler said.

Last year, the camp had 71 campers.

Perhaps the best news comes from the professionals.

"The burn units are telling us they're seeing fewer burn injuries," Gengler said.

But the camp draws more than campers and counselors. Firefighters show up, too.

Lake Geneva Fire Lt. Dennis Detkowski and Firefighter Larry Cori, were at the camp with the department's No. 2 water tower truck.

Detkowski said he didn't know of any children from Lake Geneva or Walworth County who were at the camp this year. Still, he wanted the Lake Geneva department represented at the camp.

Firefighters see young burn victims on the worst day of their lives, he said. At the camp, they can see the youngsters healing.

"This is our continued support for those firefighters who, unfortunately, had to rescue a child, and our continued support of kids who are hurt. This is a place where they can come and feel safe and be comfortable," Detkowski said.

"It's a reality check for what we do. Our job doesn't end when the trucks go back to quarters."

This year, the following fire departments brought their equipment to the camp for demonstrations and parades: Troy Center, Whitewater, Eagle, Town of Burlington, Sun Prairie, East Troy, Twin Lakes, Elkhorn, Waterloo, Town of Delevan, Rochester, North Prairie, Middleton, Greenfield, Town of Lyons, William's Bay, Tichigan, Germantown, New Berlin, City of Lake Geneva, Town of Summit, Mukwonago and Genoa City.

Camp is free for the campers, but camp costs run about $1,200 per child, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety. The camp is financially supported by a number of charitable organizations. Among them is the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club, whose members are fire service personnel. The Fire and Iron chapters (called stations) from Green Bay and Southeast Wisconsin raised about $47,500.

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