Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour: A Tragic Day that Sparked a Revolution in Burn Care

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On September 24, something unimaginable happened at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in Sacramento. It was a day that would forever change the lives of many. Fifty years ago, a tragic plane crash took the lives of 22 people, including 12 children. The pilot, an inexperienced aviator who had just participated in the Golden West Sport Aviation Show, overran the runway and crashed into the beloved ice cream parlor. The impact was devastating, leaving 25 others injured, several with severe burns.

One witness, Margie Smith, still vividly remembers that fateful day. She lived close by with her husband and three young children. It was her neighbor’s daughter who informed them about the crash, but they had no idea how close to home it hit until the next morning. Smith’s neighbors, the Krier family, were among the victims. They were celebrating Warren Krier’s birthday at Farrell’s when the tragedy occurred. Warren, Sandy, Jennifer, and two-year-old Brandon lost their lives in the crash. Brandon, just a few weeks younger than Smith’s own son, left an indelible mark in her memory.

Larry Hopkins, an 80-year-old Sacramento City firefighter, witnessed the devastation firsthand. Even though he was off duty at the time, he couldn’t ignore the emergency vehicles rushing past him towards Freeport Boulevard. Drawn by a sense of duty, he followed, only to be met with a scene of utter devastation.

But amidst the tragedy, something remarkable emerged. The crash brought to light the need for better burn care in Sacramento and its surrounding regions. Firefighter Gene LeVine, one of the victims, sparked a quest for improved care. His colleague, Fire Capt. Cliff Haskell, who learned of LeVine’s death in the blaze, was deeply affected. He realized that specialized burn care was lacking in the area. Determined to make a difference, Haskell set out to establish a world-class burn unit in Sacramento.

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In December 1973, Haskell played a pivotal role in creating the Firefighters Pacific Burn Institute, now known as the Firefighters Burn Institute. Guided by the belief that they could do better, Haskell and his team, in collaboration with community leaders, physicians, and UC Davis Health, raised over $1 million to open the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center.

This burn center, located on the second floor of the hospital, became a beacon of hope for burn victims in the region. It offered specialized care to those injured in highway crashes and wildland fires, with some patients arriving by helicopter for immediate treatment.

Children who suffered severe burns faced unique challenges. Their immune and metabolic systems underwent significant changes, necessitating specialized care. Unfortunately, for many of the Farrell’s crash survivors, including children, such care did not exist at the time. Adults who suffered severe burns typically took two to three years to rehabilitate, but for children, the process could extend up to 20 years.

Thankfully, specialized pediatric burn care became a reality in Sacramento. Just across the street from UC Davis Medical Center, Shriners Children’s Northern California established a comprehensive burn program. Led by renowned burn surgeon David Greenhalgh, the pediatric burn program at Shriners Children’s and UC Davis Health provided much-needed care for children in the region.

It wasn’t an easy journey to establish these specialized burn centers. Haskell and his team had to earn the respect of the community, doctors, and families. However, their unwavering dedication paid off, and both centers flourished, offering the best care possible.

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Today, as we reflect on the tragedy that struck Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, we can also celebrate the lasting impact it had on burn care. Lives have been saved because of the vision and determination of individuals like Haskell. The burn center he helped create continues to be a beacon of hope, providing top-notch care to those in need.

Let us remember the fallen, honor their memory, and acknowledge the incredible progress that has been made in burn care. The legacy of the Farrell’s crash lives on, reminding us that even in the face of tragedy, there is always hope for a brighter future.

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