Frances Head was badly injured when a firework, thrown in a school lunch hall, landed in her lap and exploded, leaving her with second and third degree burns to her legs and stomach.
Five years on, Frances is speaking out publically for the first time about the recklessness of mishandling fireworks or using them a weapon against others.
The 20-year-old, from Birstall in West Yorkshire, hopes that by telling the story of her teenage ordeal she will help keep others safe this bonfire period.
She has joined West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service in our annual campaign, Gone in a Flash, which highlights the dangers of fireworks.
The incident, in November 2013, left her needing treatment at Pinderfields Hospital’s Children’s Burns Unit in Wakefield for three weeks, where she underwent a skin graft operation on her right leg.
She was off school for almost six months.
Frances said: “It has had such an impact on my life – both physically and psychologically.
“When it first happened I remember being sat in the canteen with my friends and I heard a scream but I thought it was just the other kids messing about.
“There was a really big bang and I was covered in smoke. I was asthmatic, I could not breath. I was trying to focus on getting my breath back and calming myself down. By the time I calmed down and I could see again, I felt a tingle on my stomach. I noticed that my jumper was on fire so I patted it down.
“I could not hear anything because of the loud bang – it was like being in a silent movie.
“I was in shock. I looked down at myself and my jumper was gone and had burned away and it had burned all the way through my trousers.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but Frances had been badly injured by a firework which had been thrown into the hall by another pupil. She has since learnt that it hit the wall and ricochet back, landing in her lap as she was sat nearby.
She was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital where the doctor told her she had been lucky not to have suffered worse injuries.
She said: “Because of the strength of fireworks, the doctor said he was surprised it had not blown my limbs off.
“I also had a superficial burn under my right eye and he said I was really lucky I did not lose my sight.”
Following her injury Frances said that having her burns cleaned was the most painful thing, especially as her trouser material was embedded in her skin, but she knew it had to be done.
She said: “Having my dressings changed was awful, I can’t describe the pain.
“They gave me morphine and gas and air and still I could feel it.
“It felt like my bones were burning.”
Frances was able to go home three weeks after the incident, but would return to the hospital regularly for three months.
She was also diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and received counselling.
She said: “I regressed in my development – I would not go outside and leave the house without my mum and dad being there. I was scared of loud noises and busy places – I could not be in a crowd.
“Even to this day I have not been to a bonfire display.”
Amazingly she was determined to complete her GCSEs and secured a place in college.
Now she is studying Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford and she wants to specialise in children’s burn trauma.
She also supports the Pinderfields Burns Club events – a forum through which young people who have had major burn injuries can meet to have fun and share experiences.
And since her injury Frances has also met celebrity Katie Piper, who was visiting the hospital, and who she said she finds ‘so inspirational’ in the way she has battled back after being the victim of an acid attack resulting in devastating burns.
Frances said she wants to raise awareness of the potential dangers of mishandling fireworks, so that people think twice.
She said: “Every year since we were kids we had the Police and Fire Service coming in and saying ‘be careful, adults set off fireworks, not you’.
“Every year it was drilled into us that it’s dangerous and it’s a firearm, it could damage and hurt people if it goes wrong and it does go off.
“Don’t be stupid enough to do it. Fireworks being used as a weapon really annoys me – it’s not funny, it’s not a game and it can have consequences.
“It’s just as bad as shooting someone because it causes that much damage physically and mentally.
“Throwing something that is on fire at someone is a stupid thing that should not happen and people should not be so reckless.”
As a result of what happened to Frances, a youth was prosecuted and received a referral order and was ordered to pay £250 compensation.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said: “Frances has been really brave in coming forward to describe the injuries she has suffered as a result of someone being reckless with a firework.
“The consequences for her and her family have been far reaching and she said she will probably never truly get over what happened. We hope her powerful story acts as a warning to others this bonfire season that acting irresponsibly with fireworks can have terrible consequences and is by no means just mischief making.
“We urge everyone to be aware of the dangers of fireworks and to treat them with respect. It is illegal to buy fireworks under the age of 18 and only a responsible and sober adult should ever be in charge of them.
“Ideally we urge people to go to organised bonfire events where fireworks are handled by professionals and precautions are made to ensure people’s safety.”
The Fire Service is hosting an organised Bonfire Extravaganza at our Headquarters in Birkenshaw this Saturday, November 3rd starting from 5pm.
Information about the event can be found on our website www.westyorksfire.gov.uk and social media accounts – Facebook and Twitter @WYFRS.
There are also numerous council organised bonfire events happening across the districts.