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Burned officer still in critical condition

Ben Godar

A reserve Burbank Police officer badly burned while disposing of road

flares remains in critical condition, prompting the department’s

union to organize fund-raisers to assist his family.

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Sgt. DeWayne Wolfer was injured May 16 at the police pistol range

while he and Rangemaster Larry Nichols were disposing of several

crates of defective flares by burning them, Lt. Janice Lowers said.

According to Lowers, the fire from the burning flares was

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beginning to cool at the surface when water underneath the surface

became hot, creating a steam bubble that exploded.

“We do it all the time, and there’s never been a bit of a problem

before,” Lowers said, adding that the faulty flares were the same

ones linked to fires in three police cars over an 18-month period

between 1999 and 2000.

Lowers said the department typically burns flares any time they’ve

exceeded their useful life. Wolfer, a bomb expert and member of the

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International Assn. of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, has

supervised past flare disposals, she said.

Wolfer, a Burbank resident who received second- and third-degree

burns over 33% of his body, was taken to Grossman Burn Center in

Sherman Oaks, where he is in critical condition. Nichols received

minor burns and was treated and released from Providence St. Joseph

Medical Center.

Nichols was on vacation and could not be reached for comment,

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police said.

Wolfer, who must be kept in a sterile environment to avoid

infection, is making progress in his recovery, Lowers said. Reached

at the burn center, Wolfer’s wife, Bunny, said no timetable has been

set for his release from the hospital. Bunny Wolfer declined to

comment on the fire.

Lowers said Wolfer’s injury is the most serious one sustained by

an officer that she could remember in her 26-year career.

Wolfer, a 19-year veteran of the department, has volunteered more

than 19,000 hours, police said. While his medical bills are covered

through workers’ compensation, Burbank Police Officers Assn.

President Darin Ryburn said the self-employed dentist is not

reimbursed for lost salary while hospitalized.

“Doc Wolfer is one of the reserves who has done an absolutely

outstanding job here,” Ryburn said. “To see this happen to someone

who doesn’t have the financial security we do through the state

system is a real shame.”

The association has donated $3,000 to Wolfer from its Catastrophic

Illness and Injury Fund to help him recoup lost salary, Ryburn said.

A dental hygienist and support staff are employed at Wolfer’s Los

Angeles practice, where Ryburn said officers have been encouraged to

go for teeth cleanings.

Officers have already donated $1,000 to the injury fund since

Wolfer’s injury, and Ryburn said the association is in the process of

organizing fund-raisers for the department and community. Anyone

interested in donating money for Wolfer can contact the Burbank

Police Officers Assn. at 842-1133.


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