From burn survior to firefighter
by Sarah Fay Campbell
When she was just 3 years old, Laura Bates was horrifically burned in an accidental fire at her Newnan home. She had burns over 45 percent of her body and doctors only gave her a 20 percent chance of surviving.
But survive she has. Bates, as well as most children and adults who have suffered serious burns, rejects the term "burn victim." At the burn camp that Bates attends every year, "saying burn victim is like dropping the f-bomb," she said. "We are not burn victims. We are survivors."
Now 16, Bates is an active member of the "Explorers" post at the Coweta County Fire Department, has done motivational speaking, and hopes to become a fire fighter.
Bates remembered talking to Capt. Ron Hamilton, former leader of the Explorers post, about her future. "Capt. Hamilton said 'Laura, you're going to get that 3-year-old out of the building -- you're there to get that 3-year-old out of the building."
When she was younger, becoming a firefighter was something that never crossed her mind -- because she was told she would never be able to do anything that was physically strenuous. That's because she isn't able to sweat over most of her body.
"Where I'm burned, the sweat glands -- I don't have them," she said.
"I was always told you can't play sports, you can't do this, can't do that," she said. "I wanted to play soccer when I was little but I couldn't because I couldn't sweat. Firefighting was out of the question."
But then her twin sister Emily joined the Explorers. And Bate's' friend Brandy from burn camp asked why she wasn't joining the Explorers.
So she decided to try it. She decided she would go through one "physical training" session to see what would happen. "I didn't overheat or pass out," Bates said. And right then, she knew that "this is for me."
"I make the joke that I was forced into the Explorers My sister was not taking no for an answer."
So far, the sweating hasn't been a big problem. "I just hydrate a lot more," Bates said.
She's currently in the midst of her final round of surgeries.
When she was in seventh grade, it was discovered that she wasn't growing At burn camp, "they're the ones that said 'Don't let anything stop you. If Words like that do tend to shock people. "I make horrible jokes -- come with me to a bonfire," Bates said. "It's actually therapeutic. I'm not making fun of myself, I'm making fun of what it is... some people can handle it and some people can't."
Bates was taken to the burn unit at Grady Memorial Hospital where she stayed for two months. "I'm Grady's miracle baby," she said.
One reason Bates wants to become a firefighter is "to give another child the same chance I had," she said.
In her motivational speaking, Bates talks about fire safety, and when she gets older, she wants to work with the Georgia Firefighter's Burn Foundation. She heard a great motivational speaker and that encouraged her to become one as well.
"Sometimes, you just wake up and you want to do something. That is really how that happened."
She wanted to go to churches to talk about fire safety and "to tell people what God has done for me."
She tells people that "fire hazards are everywhere."
When she tells people about the dangers of gas cans, they are surprised. "They were like, 'oh my goodness, i'm going to move my gas can, because it's in the garage," Bates said. "People say, 'oh, I have a 3-year-old I never thought she would go for a gas can.'"
"Anything can be a fire hazard," Bates said. "Even if it says 'nonflammable' -- it's still flammable."
"I want to help people, to make sure they don't go through what we went through," Bates said. "We went through hell." One time at school somebody made fun of her brother, Joshua, "because we were homeless" after the fire.
Bates remembers one friend telling her "I see great things for you."
"Every time I go do motivational speaking, I think back to that. I want to change somebody's life," Bates said. "I could die today knowing I changed somebody's life. If I can reach one person, I'm satisfied. But reaching over 1,000 people -- that would be amazing."
"I say, God makes the impossible possible. I'm not supposed to be a firefighter, I'm not supposed to be in training," Bates said.
"I have scars all over me, yes, but do I see myself as ugly anymore? No," she said. "They don't define me, they're just scars. They show where I've been."
Bates said she does sometimes have relapses of her depression. She loves to listen to the song "Scars" by Colton Dixon. In the song, he says "scars remind us who we really are."
"This is really who I am. I'm a burn survivor," she said.