At age eight, Alisa Ann Ruch was fatally injured in a backyard barbecue accident in Southern California. Bravely turning their mourning into a movement, Alisa Ann’s parents, local firefighters and medical professionals joined together and created AARBF in 1971 with the goal of preventing burn injuries by teaching “Stop, Drop, and Roll”.
Losing a child is one of the most tragic events a parent could ever experience. Losing a child, while caring for another burn-injured child is almost unfathomable. This nightmare was Diane Ruch Host’s reality back in 1970, after the tragic death of her eight-year-old daughter, Alisa Ann, and the burn injury of her five-year-old son, David. Finding a way to keep Alisa Ann’s name and spirit alive, Diane, along with the entire Ruch family, turned their mourning into a movement. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation (AARBF), we hope that you will consider making a significant gift to help us continue to provide vital supportive services to those affected by burn injuries and to prevent burn injuries in California.
Tragedy is something Diane’s family experienced before she was even born. Her mother had lost a child, Larry, when he was fatally hit by a truck at only seven-years-old. This tragedy impacted the entire family so deeply, resulting in a move from Brooklyn, NY to Long Beach, NY because they needed a new start.
“I was very, very introverted,” Diane recalls of her childhood. “I had my own world. I had to find myself. I didn’t know who I was. I was so different.“
Diane met her husband Ernie Ruch at a dance at Hunter College in Manhattan, New York. They married and moved to California, a place where Diane and her family visited every summer when she was a child. Ernie was a rabbi and Diane was a special education teacher, and they had three children, Ethan (10), Alisa Ann (8) and David (5) and one on the way.
It was Memorial Day weekend in 1970, when the Ruch family held a family barbeque. Diane, who was pregnant at the time with their fourth child, and her sister were in the kitchen preparing lunch, while Ernie and the children were in the backyard getting the barbeque grill ready. Diane recalls Alisa Ann playing with a ball in the backyard that day when her ball got stuck on the roof. Alisa Ann asked, “Mom, can I go on the roof?” to which Diane replied, “No, it’s too dangerous.”
Ernie was lighting the barbeque grill, with David and Alisa Ann close behind him, when a fireball erupted, shoving Ernie backwards onto David and Alisa Ann.
All three caught on fire. Ethan, witnessing what had just happened, pushed his little brother David to the ground and rolled him around, smothering the flames. Alisa Ann, scared and in pain, ran inside to her mother. The family sped off to the hospital where David was treated for more than three weeks and endured multiple surgeries, and where Alisa Ann was given a 1% chance to live. Alisa Ann fought for her life for five weeks until sadly she succumbed to her burn injuries.
Life for the family after Alisa’s death was tumultuous. After the accident, the Ruch family moved from the home where the accident had happened, because it was simply too much for Diane to bare. “My children kept me going,” recalled Diane after the accident. “David had to have 11 surgeries and I was pregnant. Alisa also kept me going, because I wanted her name to live on, she deserved that. She would have been an amazing adult, if she had lived.”
Diane asked Dr. A. Richard Grossman, Alisa and David’s burn surgeon, how to keep her daughter’s name and spirit alive, and he advised her to form a burn foundation. Diane received support from 15 rabbis and firefighters from LA County and the LA City fire departments to help start the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.
“I didn’t know anything about a burn foundation. I was the mother. It was just the timing. I was very determined and I was the one who got the people together,” Diane recalled about starting a burn foundation.
Even through her family’s numerous tragedies, Diane Ruch Host still seeks to find the greater meaning in this all. Burn prevention is a great passion of Diane’s, knowing firsthand how a burn injury can totally change one’s life. “When something like this happens, it’s not just a one-time thing. It stays with you for your whole life. One day in 1970 changed my life and the life of my family forever. I lost a child in a terrible accident. It was unthinkable. Incomprehensible. And preventable. I sat there in the days after Alisa Ann’s death and knew something had to be done to teach children what to do if they ever caught on fire. Something had to be done.”
And with the creation of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation much has been accomplished. Tens of thousands of burn survivors and their families have been provided supportive services, including financial, emotional, therapeutic and recreational therapy. Millions of children and adults have been taught how to, “Stop, Drop and Roll,” and became more fire and burn safe, thanks to the tireless work of AARBF.
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, let us take pause and remember the life of Alisa Ann Ruch. Like a flash of lightning, Alisa Ann’s life was brilliant, yet brief. Her name has lived on every day for the past 50 years, bringing life-saving burn prevention messages to thousands of Californians and providing support and enhancing the quality of life of those affected by burn-injuries. The Ruch family turned their mourning into a movement. Help us continue our good work, in Alisa Ann’s name, for the next 50 years, through a personally significant gift today.
“Out of my family’s tragedy came all of this good,” said Diane. “It touches my heart and makes me so proud. Thank you for all that you give so selflessly so that other children like Alisa Ann never have to experience a burn injury.”