Location: Hemet, California
Date: December 27, 1991


On the morning of December 27, 1991, five-year-old Megan Unger and her nine-year-old sister, Janet, were watching TV while their mother, Kelly, was showering upstairs. Although she couldn't use the stove, Megan, who had watched Kelly making breakfast many times, decided to cook herself some oatmeal.

Standing on a chair, which she pushed next to the stove, to boil the water, Megan reached across the stove for a wooden spoon to stir up the oatmeal. The sleeve of her nightgown touched the flame of the gas burner and ignited, sending fire racing up her arm. Her anguished screams brought Janet racing into the kitchen.

Janet remembered the lesson of "stop, drop, and roll," which she learned in school. She pulled her hysterical sister off the chair, threw her to the ground, rolled her over and over to extinguish the flames, and threw a glass of water on her.

Kelly, hearing Megan's screams, raced downstairs, where she found her lying on the floor, severely burned, with her nightgown in tatters. Kelly, who used to be an EMT, scooped her up in her arms, ran upstairs to the bathroom, wrapped her in a clean sheet, submerged her in a tub of cool water, told Janet to stay with her, ran downstairs, and called 911. Among those responding to Kelly's call was Hemet Valley paramedic Joe Cyber.

"I couldn't believe this was happening to my daughter," Kelly said. "You have children, and they have these perfect bodies. You can't imagine this kind of destruction."

Firefighters and paramedics from the Valley Vista Fire Department arrived, could smell quite a bit of burning hair and skin as they walked up the walkway, assessed the seriousness of the situation, and required helicopter transport. "We knew immediately that she was going to have to go to the Reginal Burn Center. A ground transport would have been way too long and painful for her," said Joe. The paramedics put a strong mask over Megan's face and wheeled her out to the ambulance. She was driven to a nearby field and then flown to the San Bernardino County Medical Center, where she was diagnosed as having second and third degree burns over 30% of her body. She was in the hospital for 5 1/2 weeks, during which time she had three skin graft surgeries and underwent months of painful physical therapy.

"I never knew how serious burns were until this happened," said her father, Bill. "I never looked at it as a life-threatening event. Now we're facing months of therapy and years of skin grafts. But although she's scarred on the outside, I don't believe she'll be scarred on the inside, and that's where the true beauty is."

"I'm grateful for Janet," Kelly said. "If she hadn't been there, Megan might not be with us today." "I knew I had to save my sister and it's alright if I catch fire too. I'd stop, drop, and roll. Megan didn't know because she was just in kindergarten at the time, so I had to do it," said Janet. "My sister saved my life. I thank her for doing that," said Megan.