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Jerry Buist

Faces of Fire

Jerry Buist was 10 years old when he suffered severe burns and injuries from smoke inhalation.

“I wouldn’t want to change anything I’ve been through in my life, but I would also not want any of you or your families to go through what I’ve been through – and you don’t have to because home fire sprinklers can prevent that from happening."

Date of fire: May 15, 1991
Age at time of fire: 10
Location: Paw Paw, Michigan
Injury: Burns to 35-45% of body – upper half (chest, face), injuries due to smoke inhalation. 
Download Jerry's Faces of Fire story (PDF)

Jerry and his parents had often discussed fire safety, and the day he woke up trapped by flames, he wished they’d done more than talk. He heard his father’s cries and saw the fire at the top of the basement stairs. Even in his panic, Jerry new there was no option but to run up and out. He ran through the fire to escape down the hall. Jerry remembers only brief seconds of pain before waking next in the hospital. He was 10 years old.

Although 35-45 percent of his body was burned, the greater injury was from smoke inhalation. After a number of surgeries, he was forced to wear compression garments and a plastic face mask. Mental and physical scars haunted him throughout his teenage years, and Jerry rebelled against his physical therapy.

A trip to a burn camp changed his life, finally giving him hope. Surrounded by others who understood his experience and were there to help, Jerry realized that he would one day recover and be able to do all the things he wanted to do. He would later return to work at that burn camp in Estes Park, Colo.

The wounds have since healed, and he is now able to talk about his experience freely. However, he feels strongly that no one should ever have to go through the pain and frustration that he experienced. He knows that home fire sprinklers would have controlled the fire long before it trapped him in the basement.