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How one nurse began a burn-prevention campaign.
By: David Belcher, Associate Editor

A little flame by the name of Bernie is one nurse’s contribution to child safety.  After her daughter Azurae, just shy of her first birthday, burned her hand on a hot oven door in 2001, Sarah Cruz, R.N., of Pawtucket, RI, conceived the idea of a character named Bernie Burn who hides around ovens and other hot objects and burns children.


Azurae’s second-degree burn healed, but the trauma to both daughter and mother spurred Cruz to combine her nursing, writing, and drawing skills in a book about burn prevention for children and parents.  Cruz found that most children’s books on the subject addressed school-age children or caregivers.  Bernie Burn targets children ages six months to four years.


“When the book was published many burn-prevention organizations thanked me because so much material was available for adults but not children,” Cruz says.  “But 250,000 kids are seriously burned each year in this country.  Before my daughter became a statistic, I didn’t have that information.  


One such organization is the Children’s Burn Foundation.  Keely Quinn, program development director at the Sherman Oaks, California, office plans to use the book in her outreach program “Careful, That’s Hot!” for adults and children.


“This book promotes the parent reading to the child, as well as both of them learning the dangers of burns,” Quinn says.  “The materials that most burn foundations or fire departments have previously used are more of a ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ approach. There’s very little that’s interactive between parents and children.”


Cruz portrays Bernie as an ornery fire-shaped fella with a scowl and an attitude—like an angry, orange Gumby. He pops up in ovens and on stovetops, and around faucets, and in Crock-pots and coffee pots.  The book illustrates the story of Baby Rae, a toddler who moves around the house, gets a “boo-boo” from Bernie Burn, cries, heals, and learns something—all in about 20 pages.  The easy-to-read book includes several pages for parents that list fire safety contact information and burn prevention tips such as setting up a “no zone” for children in front of the stove.  It also features perforated pages in the back that depict Bernie’s various hangouts.  Cruz says that coloring these pages helps children to learn the dangers of burns in the kitchen.


Burn prevention involves common sense, she says.  Parents know that they should watch their children around hot items, but they may not realize the dangers of drinking hot liquids while holding a child.  “There are a lot more children burned than people realize,” she says. “Many times it’s not reported because parents are embarrassed.  It takes just a second—it can happen right before your very eyes.”


A 40-year-old stay-at-home mother of two, Cruz graduated from the nursing school at the Community College of Rhode Island in 1994 and worked as a visiting nurse and in managed care before staying at home full time to raise her family.  She and her husband, Christopher, a self-employed graphic artist (who designed Bernie Burn), musician, and computer consultant, self-published Bernie Burn last year after approaching several large publishers.


“Many of the big publishing houses were interested, but they said they wouldn’t know how to market the book,” Sarah says.  But the Cruzes figured they knew how to market the book—directly to children and their parents.


Cruz has visited day care centers and preschools throughout Rhode Island, introducing her orange menace to hundreds of children.  She brings plenty of household items with her to demonstrate:  irons, toasters, and curling irons.  “When I present at schools a lot of children share their burn stories with me,” she says.  “It’s an amazing experience.  I welcome any opportunity to raise awareness about burn prevention.”

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