The summer of 2016 was great for long, warm days and balmy evenings – just right for families and friends to gather for barbecues. Such was the occasion for Simon Griffin and his family when they were planning an afternoon get together at his mum’s house in Paignton on August Bank Holiday weekend. 

Simon and his brother had gone on ahead of their families to ‘get the barbecue going’.  Struggling to get a good flame and in order to speed things up, Simon added methylated spirits.  Not realising this, however, his brother then added some more – with the result of a flame that flared from the barbecue back up to the bottle, catapulting the bottle from his hand and singeing his arm. The flame, however, also caught Simon’s t-shirt, which immediately caught alight.

Invisible flame

Feeling a sensation as if a jet of water had been sprayed on him, Simon rolled on the grass to put out the flame. As he stood up though, the flames reignited – to make matters worse, ‘meths’ is an invisible flame. His sister-in-law phoned 999 as family members tried to help.

Devon’s Air Ambulance crew of paramedics Nick Ratcliffe and Richard Walker, with pilot Howard Roe were swiftly on scene. Simon had suffered 30% burns to his stomach, chest, both arms and his face; by good fortune his sunglasses had protected his eyes. The aircrew checked that Simon was well enough to fly and conveyed him to Derriford for urgent treatment.

Later the same day and once stabilised at Derriford, a second Air Ambulance aircrew were called to transfer Simon from Derriford to the specialist burn’s centre at Morriston in Swansea. Paramedics Chris Saunders and Mark Langley attended with pilot Dan Smith.

How to aid recovery

Some of the burns were superficial (although still extremely painful as all the  nerve endings were exposed); others were far deeper and 10 days after admittance to Morriston, Simon had three skin grafts under general anaesthetic with skin from his knee to his thigh being grafted to his right forearm and under both arms.

Simon was a model patient and surprised all who were looking after him by leaving hospital just three weeks later. When he asked a nurse what made him different she explained, “You had great initial treatment, you have eaten well to keep up your strength and you’ve had a great positive mental attitude – all these things are helping you to heal.”

Speaking to Helipad’s editor and Patient Liaison for Devon Air Ambulance, Debbie Gregory, in early November, Simon said “I’m getting there now. I’m still taking pain relief, applying special cream and wearing the pressure sleeves on both arms – my arms were worse as they took the full force of the flame. I had a great incentive to get better; for my son Ben’s wedding to Livvy at the end of October and my wife Kirsti and I were so grateful to get there. I’ll be off work for a little while longer but I should be back in the New Year. I am just so grateful to everyone who helped me, from the land crew who first arrived at mum’s, to both the Air Ambulance crews who took me to Derriford and then to Swansea and to all at the specialist burns unit in Morriston – they were absolutely brilliant. I also can’t thank my family and friends enough for all their love and support since the accident. My son, Sam, came all the way from London to visit me – I am still so grateful.”

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