A school field trip to the fire department helped save 9-year-old Kahner Peay's life.
The right side of Kahner's body became engulfed in flames in April when he and a few friends were experimenting with a lighter. Luckily the stop, drop and roll technique was imprinted in his mind.
"We had a field trip to the fire place, and that's where I learned it," Kahner said.
Though he followed what was printed in his beloved, tattered and torn fire safety coloring book, the experiment left him in the hospital for two weeks with first-, second- and third-degree burns.
A tall, slim child with brown eyes, Kahner settled on his family's couch, shyly chiming in but mostly listening to the story his mother told of that frightful spring day.
"It happened right out back here," mother Robyn Brennan said, motioning toward the window.
"He and his friends thought it would be cool to play with fire and got hold of a lighter and threw fireballs at each other."
Brennan said she found it odd when one of her son's friends kept coming in the house, asking for more paper.
"They said they were making snowflakes, and that they had a pair of scissors but needed more paper," she said.
Almost instantaneously, Brennan heard her son screaming for her.
"Most people would freeze, but I couldn't watch my child or anyone on fire without doing something to help," she said. "I ran over to him and threw him down on the ground. I wasn't nice."
"But I didn't feel a thing," Kahner said. "There was this little blue flame that wouldn't go out."
Brennan said her hands and Kahner's neck were burned as she struggled with the top button of his flannel shirt.
"We couldn't get it off," she said. "By the time it was out, there were barely sleeves left on the thing."
"My downstairs neighbor helped me get my shirt off, and his fingers got burned too," Kahner added. "It's weird because only this part of my body got burned."
After enduring several painful skin grafts from his legs and back to his side and under his armpit, Kahner is healing. He will remain in physical and occupational therapy to keep his skin pliable, and until he stops growing he will wear a compression suit to help the grafted skin heal smoothly.
His mother's insurance offset the two-week stay at Cleveland MetroHealth Medical Center and the skyrocketing medical bills.
"We're very fortunate," Brennan said. "I didn't lecture him. He's punished himself enough for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The worst for him has happened."
Kahner's third-grade classmates at Hancock Elementary School kept him in mind while he was going through the steps to recovery.
His teacher, Jonathan Smith, organized a candy sale to raise money for the family while incorporating an economics lesson on supply, demand, producers, consumers and the division of labor.
"Students set up a production line to produce bags of candy," Smith said. "Each student had a job on the line. Families in my class really helped out. All of the candy and supplies were donated by them and our staff at Hancock. We raised $150 and sold a few hundred bags of candy. We sold out."
His classmates said they were glad to help.
"We made cards for him, and he got pizza and gas cards," Keysean Amison said.
"We did it because he was hurt real bad and it helps," classmate Dathan Williams said.
Kahner and his mother said they were overwhelmed by the generosity.
"Every day his class was writing letters to him," she said. "His teacher and his wife came up to visit him. My son came home with stacks of cards in a huge rubber band from the other classes at school. It was wonderful. I never expected them to do anything like they did."
In addition to the candy sale money, the family received a few hundred dollars from the staff at Hancock for medical/gas expenses and a gift card from Madison Elementary, Kahner's former school. Smith's sister, Joy Roth, a teacher at Sandusky High School, raised funds for a Kroger gift card. The Vermilion Fire Department, through firefighter and Hancock teacher Eric Johnston, donated a gas card.
"It was nice for them to do that," Kahner said. "They sold candy. It made me feel happy."