Texas Firefighters Remain in Galveston Burn Unit
Feb. 20--When Bryan firefighters suffered severe burns from battling a structure fire Friday, they were immediately flown to the Blocker Burn Unit in Galveston, one of the top centers for serious burns in the nation.
Fire officials have said little about the extent of injuries to firefighters Ricky D. Mantey Jr., 30, and Mitchel Moran, 21, who remain in serious condition at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital.
The men suffered the burns trying to save firefighter Eric Wallace, 36, who died from injuries sustained at a fire at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Groesbeck. Firefighters Mantey, Moran and Greg Pickard, 54, were dispatched to extract Wallace after he signaled he was low on air and needed help.
Pickard, who was flown to Galveston with the other men, died from his wounds at the hospital on Saturday.
While the extent of the Bryan firefighters' wounds remains unclear, to be admitted to the specialized burn unit patients must have either suffered burns across more than 20 percent of their bodies or on critical areas such as the face, hands or reproductive organs, or inhaled chemicals or suffered electrical injuries.
Dr. David Herndon, professor of surgery and chief of burn services at the University of Texas Medical Branch, is the treating physician for Mantey and Moran. Herndon could not divulge details regarding his patients, but spoke with The Eagle about the general type of care provided at the first burn center in the United States to become certified by the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association.
Patients are generally kept in rooms heated to between 80 to 90 degrees with higher than average humidity, Herndon said. One of the primary afflictions of burn victims, he noted, is skin loss and resulting fluid leakage.
Fluids on the skin can make patients cold, he said, and the climate-controlled rooms help keep them more comfortable. Similarly, the unit is equipped with air beds to relieve pressure off of patients' backs.
The unit is equipped with specialized showers, tub rooms and feeding tubes. The nurses and doctors specialize in respiratory support and treating infections. The unit was founded in the 1960s by UTMB President Dr. Truman Blocker, a plastic surgeon who treated Japanese patients disfigured by American atomic bombs and victims of the 1947 Texas City disaster, the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history.
"Burn victims are best transferred to certified burn units because after a burn happens over a large portion of their body, a large amount of fluids leak out through the burn wound that needs to be replaced," Herndon said. "Patients can develop a burn shock."
Burn victims frequently breathe in smoke and suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, Herndon said. Doctors provide ventilators and windpipe tubes to support breathing. Smoke can cause the inner lining of the lung to fall off, he said, and patients received specialized treatments to remove smoke particles and fluid leakage in the lungs.
Burns typically cause the skin to turn hard, like leather, Herndon said. When harder skin doesn't expand, it can block blood flow to fingertips and toes, and can complicate breathing, he said.
Wounds over large areas need to be removed, he said, and burned areas need to be washed regularly so that harmful bacteria does not grow in secreted fluid.
It's typical for the unit to treat injured firefighters, Herndon said, but acknowledged the situation with the Bryan men was unfortunately unique.
"Firefighters are seen in burn units all around the U.S. on a daily basis, and firefighter injuries in Texas have been fortunately low," Herndon said. "Though we do see firefighters hurt in the line of duty, it is an unusual circumstance to have such a terrible tragedy."
Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor broke encouraging news at a Tuesday press conference. He announced that Mantey and Moran for the first time on Tuesday were able to walk, talk and hug their family members. City officials remain optimistic about their recovery.
"They have a long way to go, as I've mentioned, and I'm going to ask that you continue to pray for these folks and their families," McGregor said at the press conference.
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