A teenage firefighter-in-training, who dreams of working for the Pasadena Fire Department, managed to survive a tragic dune buggy accident outside Las Vegas, but was left with severe burns over most of her body.
For 17-year-old America Salmeron, the story is about determination and perseverance. She has a long road to recovery and what those around say she needs most right now is support from the community that she hopes to one day serve.
“America embodies everything that the Pasadena Firefighter Explorer Program is,” Pasadena Fire Department Capt. Arno Avakian told KTLA. “She’s a hard worker, she’s driven, positive attitude, always willing to help others.”
The teen is also already a leader in the department’s Explorer Program and was in the process of interviewing to become a sponsored cadet at the Verdugo Fire Academy, but after the accident, her journey is going to take longer than she’d planned.
“Overall, the situation that I’m currently in is very hard,” she explained from her hospital bed. “But overall, I’m just trying to move forward and stay positive.
The dune buggy accident happened in Nevada last weekend when the vehicle flipped over and caught fire. Salmeron was trapped in the burning wreckage but was somehow able to pull herself out from under the dune buggy and run before it exploded.
“I saw death in front of my eyes, and I didn’t know what to do, but I told myself that if I don’t get myself out of here, no one will,” Salmeron said.
The 17-year-old suffered second and third degree burns to more than 51% of her body. Through an interpreter, her mother told KTLA that her daughter’s spirit is an inspiration.
“She asked me how is she going to pay me back for everything I’m doing for her and I tell her, ‘You’re going to repay me back when graduate and you become a firefighter,’” Sara Salmeron said. “I’m going to feel so proud. I want to see my daughter become a firefighter and I want her to say, ‘Mom, I did it. We are bad asses.’”
Capt. Avakian assured the teen that everyone is thinking about her, that her support group is growing each day.
“We can’t wait for your recovery and to bring you home and to see you through this,” he said.
Despite the journey ahead of her, Salmeron said she’s more determined than ever to become a firefighter.
“When do you hear a female say, ‘Oh, I want to become a firefighter?’ It’s rare, right, because it’s a man’s…job, and at least in my hometown, I don’t see a lot of firefighters that are women. I wanted to become one of the very few and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” the teen said. “I see this situation as a test, a test that God put me through, saying, ‘You want to join the fire service? Well, let me put you through fire. Let me see if you still want to do it.’ Look, I managed to escape and I’m still wanting to become a firefighter.”
Firefighters in Pasadena have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help Salmeron and her family cover the cost of her extensive medical treatment.