Treatments & Research

Out of Tragedy Comes Innovation

Shriners Children’s Northern California launched a first-of-its-kind burn program in the aftermath of a plane crash.

In 1972, a vintage Korean War-era fighter jet attempted to head home after an airshow at Sacramento Executive Airport in Sacramento, California. The jet failed to get airborne and slammed into an ice cream parlor across the street, killing 23 people, including 10 children, and injuring 25. Sacramento City firefighter Gene LaVine and eight family members were among those lost in the fiery crash. 

What was, at the time, the worst air-ground tragedy in U.S. history led to the launch of the pediatric burn program at Shriners Children’s Northern California. It is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. 

Meeting the need of the tragedy

Recognizing the need for a significant response, Sacramento Fire Department Captain Cliff Haskell and firefighters with Local 522 began fundraising to establish a specialized burn unit for the Sacramento region. Haskell’s initial fundraising campaigns formed the Firefighters Burn Institute (FFBI) in 1973. 

“Shortly after the crash, FFBI had its own burn unit – a small burn unit at UC Davis,” said Joe Pick, executive director of FFBI. “Now, it is a premier burn unit.” 

 Since its founding, FFBI has expanded its mission to include burn research, public outreach and education, as well as burn prevention. It also hosts burn recovery programs for survivors and their families.

Inspiring Shriners Children’s to collaborate

The leaders of Shriners Children’s Northern California took note of the UC Davis and FFBI collaboration, and they approached leaders of UC Davis Health to explore the possibility of working together to offer a multidisciplinary specialty pediatric healthcare facility that focused on burns.

 In 1997, Shriners Children’s Northern California, in affiliation with UC Davis Health, launched a first-of-its-kind pediatric burn program led by Chief of Burns, David Greenhalgh, M.D., who was recruited to lead the burn programs at both the Northern California Shriners Hospital and UC Davis Health. FFBI welcomed the opening of Shriners Children’s Northern California and its focus on children. They immediately incorporated the pediatric burn program into their priorities. 

To this day, FFBI partners with the hospital to promote advances at professional meetings like the American Burn Association and the Phoenix Society, host summer camps for child burn survivors, sponsor education for pediatric nurse specialists and support the burn prevention program at the Shriners hospital.

Shriners Children’s Northern California received a substantial gift this year of $25 million and renamed the burn program the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute. 

Shriners Children’s also offers burn care at its facilities in Boston, Massachusetts; Dayton, Ohio; and Galveston, Texas.