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Iris Miller

Faces of Fire

A home fire cost Iris Miller severe burns and all of the fingers on her right hand.

“Thinking of how home fire sprinklers might have changed my life … I wish I’d had that chance.”

Name: Iris Miller
Date of fire: April 29, 1996
Age at time of fire: 55
Location: Morton Grove, Illinois
Injury: Severely burned and lost all her fingers on her right hand. 
Download Iris Miller's Faces of Fire story (PDF)

Iris MillerIris Miller of Morton Grove, Illinois, has found it easy to live up to the meanings of her name. Faith, hope and wisdom have carried her through many challenges, perhaps most importantly the night of April 29, 1996.

Just 11 days after her fifty-fifth birthday, Iris was enjoying a quiet evening in her bedroom nestled under the covers and reading a book when she dozed off. As the smoke alarms  blared, she slept. It was the smoke that finally roused her to the fire caused by a heating pad that had shorted. Her last memory from inside the room was of struggling with the doorknob. The door had swollen shut. As fire and smoke grew inside her room, her saving grace was her son, who had just returned home. When he finally got the door open, he pulled his severely injured mother through the house to safety.

The fire left Iris in critical condition. She went from hospitals to burn centers struggling with a collapsed lung and second-and third-degree burns over 22 percent of her body. Her final reach for the door knob during the fire cost Iris much of her right hand, and her burns required skin grafts and rehabilitation.

Over the years, she’s learned to use her “paw” to do things and get around. Her loss of mobility has had a major effect on her tennis, but she hasn’t given up on herself and for others facing similar challenges. She has worked with the engineering school at Northwestern University to develop custom made tools, such as tennis rackets and typing mechanisms. Of course, nothing is the same as having a full hand, but Iris gets by. 

“I only lost fingers. Many burn survivors are far more challenged, and many never make it through a fire,” Iris says. “I may have been a victim, but I chose to survive.”

In addition to her work at Northwestern University, Iris is a motivational speaker. She is doing well, despite her injuries from the fire, and can still look back on the irony of event. That evening before she went to bed, Iris was reading Touched by Fire.