West Valley City • All eyes were on first-grader Mason Fackrell at Whittier Elementary on Thursday, and for once, it wasn't because of his scars.
When Mason was 18 months old, a pan of hot cooking oil fell on him. The accident resulted in significant scarring to his face and hands.
"He gets stares all the time," said Mason's aunt, Aliesha Doxey. "That's hard for a little kid, you know, [he] gets self-conscious."
So Mason's family asked the West Valley City Fire Department to step in and help boost the boy's confidence. Firefighters on Thursday granted that request, visiting Mason's school to educate the boy's peers on fire safety. In the process, they made the 6-year-old feel more comfortable with his appearance.
Nearly 100 first-graders watched as Mason raced with a firefighter to get dressed in fire-fighting gear. The students giggled and cheered as Mason, with the help of firefighter Mike Reardon, donned the massive boots, suit and helmet. Mason was fully dressed and ready to fight fire by the time the professional firefighter racing Mason managed to get his head gear on.
The students met firefighters and examined their heavy coats and thick gloves. Students checked out a fire truck, saw the fire hose and listened to the loud call of the engine's siren.
Reardon said there is a myth that young children are afraid of the fire department when they respond to emergencies, so firefighters like to create awareness of what they look like when they are all suited up.
Thursday's visit was the fire department's second visit to Whittier to help Mason's classmates understand why he looks different. Firefighters attended Mason's kindergarten class last year, with hopes of easing childrens' confusion about the boy's burns.
"It's a good day," Reardon said. "We look forward to days like this. This one in particular."
The effort is appreciated by Mason's relatives, who have endured heartache listening to the boy tell stories about the teasing he has received.
"He's had kids call him a monster … People say 'eww, what's happened?'" Doxey said. Mason's mom knew that her son's scars would make some kids uncomfortable, she added.
"She knew there'd be lots of stares [and] so many kids for him to have to explain to," said Doxey.
Mason's experiences at a burn camp he attended after his accident helped him to prepare for some of the stares and the questions. The camp, sponsored by the University of Utah in Millcreek Canyon, gives young burn victims the opportunity to have fun and develop confidence in a safe environment.
"They teach him when people stare they're not being mean, but they're just wondering what happened," Doxey said.
Now when people ask Mason about his scars he knows just what to tell them: "I got burned by hot cooking oil."
As attention surrounded him Thursday, Mason said it was a surprise to see firefighters at school. He thought perhaps firefighters came to visit because of that happy coincidence that he wore his junior firefighter sweatshirt to school, he said.
The boy acknowledged that sometimes it's difficult to have scars, but his aunt said her nephew doesn't let his past injuries get him down.
"He's full of life," she said. "Even though he has suffered the burns he seems to get by just great."
She said Thursday's event meant the world to Mason, who one day hopes to become a firefighter himself.
"He's going to have a hard time his whole life with his scars," Doxey said. "But something like this he gets to feel special for a day, you know, hopefully he'll get more days like this."