Princella Lee Bridges ran back into her burning home, changing her life forever.
“In the grand scheme of things, how does the cost of putting in sprinklers at $1.25, $2.60, or $3.40 per square foot, compare to the loss of a loved one. For me, the burns I suffered in a home fire led to not only physical impacts, but also the loss of a marriage, and the loss of a career I loved. How does the cost of installing sprinklers measure up to all of that?”
Name: Princella Lee Bridges
Date of fire: March 1992
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Injury: Burns on 49% of body as a result of a house fire.
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On what began as a normal evening in March of 1992, a quick turn of events and the blur of maternal instinct and panic changed Princella Lee Bridge’s life forever. Princella was busy with the evening’s chores of making dinner and helping her daughter with homework when her son ran into the room to tell her the home’s heating unit was on fire. Princella went for the fire extinguisher, but quickly realized that it was time to get her family out of the burning house. Using their escape plan, the family sought safety outside.
“My son and my dad went out, and so did I. And I just assumed that my daughter went with us,” Princella says. “That’s not what happened.”
When Princella, an operating room nurse and Desert Storm veteran, didn’t see her daughter outside, she was frantic. She shouted to nearby firefighters that her daughter was still inside, then ran back into the burning home to rescue her on her own. In the meantime, firefighters had found her daughter and had begun treating her for smoke inhalation. The injuries that Princella suffered were much more serious. With burns on 49 percent of her body, Princella remained in a coma for two months.
During her recovery, Princella faced a new battle: rebuilding her life. Because of the severity of her burns, she underwent numerous painful and time-consuming surgeries followed by frequent hospital stays. She wondered whether the ongoing process was worth it as she saw the toll it began to take on every aspect of her life. Her marriage didn’t make it through her recovery. She lost her hands in the fire and was forced out of a successful career as a nurse. She began to lose part of her identity.
“I was an OR nurse. I was an aero-medical evacuation nurse. I had just been discharged from Desert Storm,” Princella says. “And now, society shuns me. It does all it can to put restraints on you. I have to explain myself to everyone, and that can make you bitter.”
She has channeled her personal struggles and losses into Bridges from Augusta Inc., a nonprofit organization she founded to help individuals and families who have suffered burn injuries and trauma as they transition back into the community.
“There were no programs, no support systems and no one to help me get the follow-up care I needed. No one to answer the questions I had about returning to live my best life,” Princella says about the founding of Bridges from Augusta.
Princella is proud of the work she is doing now, but believes that, for her, all of this could have been avoided had her home been equipped with fire sprinklers.