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Preschoolers learn burn prevention thanks to Bernie Burn character


The children at Friends’ House Preschool know to stay away from Bernie Burn.  Though he hides in many places, like the iron, in the toaster and on oven doors, these kids know how to avoid him and insist he won’t get them.

The lesson they learned is thanks to Sarah Cruz.  Cruz, a registered nurse and stay-at-home mom, came to the school on Harrington Avenue Monday morning to read her book “Bernie Burn” to the children.  “Bernie Burn” is all about burn prevention and fire safety and is aimed at children aged six months to four years old. Its colorful pages gets and keeps children’s attention, and the words in the book like, “Bernie Burn is hot! He’s not cool.  Don’t touch Bernie Burn or you’ll get a boo boo,” help get the message across.

According to Cruz, who illustrated and co-wrote the book, “Bernie Burn” is the first of its kind intended for children four and younger.  All others out there are directed at kindergarten-aged children and up.

Cruz and her husband, Christopher, came up with the idea for Bernie Burn shortly after their daughter, Azurae, suffered second degree burns on her hand four days before her first birthday.  The story in the book is based on the incident.

“One afternoon she was toddling around while I was cooking,” said Cruz. “Before I could do anything to stop her she reached out and touched the hot oven door. She had second-degree burns on her hand, but she is fortunate, since they healed.”

Cruz said even after it happened, much to her surprise, her daughter would try to go near the oven again.

“I’d say to her, ‘Don’t touch. Bernie Burn,” and my husband asked me where I got that from,” she said.

Cruz said she told him it was something her mother used to say.  He liked it so much he suggested she create a book about the subject with Bernie Burn as the character.

“I did some research and I was surprised there was not a lot of literature available [for younger audiences].  That’s what we think is so different about this book,” she said.

From there, the couple set out to prevent other parents and children from experiencing the same trauma, and though it has been three years in the making and even led to them creating their own publishing company, “Bernie Burn” has been well-received by local and national organizations.

“Although the National Safe Kids doesn’t provide endorsements, they did say they liked the book very much,” said Cruz.

National Safe Kids is an organization dedicated to the prevention of unintended childhood injuries.  According to its Web site, thousands of children suffer burn injuries each year, and of those children age four and under are twice as likely to die from those injuries.

Since then, Cruz has planned to visit with several pre-schools, with Friends’ House being the first, to get the message of the book out there and, hopefully, find others interested in purchasing it.  After she read the book to the children, Cruz uncovered a wagon full of household appliances she brought with her to further illustrate to the children what to stay away from. Included were a curling iron, an iron, a crockpot, a coffee maker, a radiator and a lamp.

“I won’t let Bernie Burn get me,” said one child.

“Me neither!” chimed in a second and a third.

“This was wonderful,” said Cathy Costantino, owner of Friends’ House. “The children are always really interested in this kind of information and they like to pass it around.”

Costantino said she was certain the children would spread the word about Bernie Burn to parents and other children at home.

“That’s just what we want to happen,” said Cruz.

With plenty of time and money invested in the project (the first printing consisted of 5,000 copies), Cruz said that if “Bernie Burn” can help prevent “even one child from being burned than all our efforts were worth it over the last three years.”

In the back of the book, Cruz offers several tips to parents that will help them prevent burn injuries in the home. Some are:
• Provide continuous and adequate supervision of children in the kitchen, especially as a child’s mobility and curiosity increases.
• Create a “Safe Area” in the kitchen where a child can be placed. Use highchairs, playpens, gates, etc. and check for their location before moving any hot liquids in the kitchen.
• Establish a “No Zone” directly in front of the stove. Teach children to remain out of this area. This can be done with colored tape on the floor.
• Never hold a child while drinking hot liquids.

Also at the end of the book are coloring pages with Bernie Burn hanging out in different dangerous places around the kitchen. Cruz believes that coloring the pages will help reinforce the idea of Bernie Burn to the children.

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