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Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â LAFD Retired CaptainÂ Jerry Thomas
Black LAFD Firefighter Speaks Out About Michael Jackson’s Scalp Burn
By Francis Taylor
Sentinel Staff Writer
Retired Captain Jerry Thomas, a decorated member of the Los Angeles Fire Department before his retirement in 2005, was the officially assigned fire marshal assigned to oversee the pyrotechnic aspects of the elaborate Pepsi commercial where Michael Jackson endured 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his scalp in 1984.
Film of the actual incident, finally released following Jackson’s recent untimely passing, have been the focal point of worldwide cable and syndicated news stories where it has been suggested that his dependency on pain pills, as a result of the incident, ultimately contributed to his demise.
“I was assigned to be on the set as a representative of the City of Los Angeles and the Fire Department to ensure that appropriate and necessary precautions were established to ensure the safety of everyone on the set, including of course Michael himself.” Thomas explained.
“The special affects coordinator presented his plan to me and I eventually approved an approach for the most potentially dangerous elements of the stunt.” He continued. “We completed nine practice runs with Michael and I was confident that the final film version should have been executed without incident.”
Thomas said however, that just before the final taping, someone told the pyrotechnic technician to deviate from the approved plan, causing Jackson to pause slightly before his descent to provide a more majestic affect for the final commercial.
That pause, and the earlier discharge of fire, is what caused Jackson to sustain the most severe, 2nd and 3rd degree burns.
“I was about 20 feet from Jackson, on stage left and my assistant in training, fire fighter Don Donester, was at about the same distance at stage right.” Thomas continued.
“While wearing his uniform jacket, Donester wrestled Jackson to the ground and covered his scalp with his arm to stop his hair from smoldering from the nearly 24 inch flame that had been on top of his head.” Thomas described. “I grasped control of the situation and immediately instructed the Los Angeles Police representatives to clear the stage and restrain the thousands of spectators who were in the audience. Then, I immediately applied first aid to the burn area as a consequence to minimize the severity of the injuries.”
Thomas then described the most personal minutes he shared with Jackson as he swiftly carried him to a more private room as they awaited the paramedics.
“Jackson clenched both of my hands for several minutes as I attempted to calm him and ensure that he did not lapse into a state of shock. In response to Jackson’s question about the severity of his injury, I told him that the burn was about the size of a quarter, in favor of providing a more frightful and actual assessment which was closer to three to four inches in diameter.”
Brotman Medical spokespersons, where Jackson was transported for treatment for his potentially, near-fatal accident, indicated that the action taken by Thomas, immediately following the accident, minimized the severity of his injuries.
Thomas has remained silent, up to this time, largely at the direction of the leadership of the Los Angeles Fire Department, and has not sought any recognition or other acknowledgement for his decisive action in saving the life of what, at that time, was the most popular and celebrated entertainer on the planet.
“I was told that public and press inquiries poured into the LAFD Media Center requesting an interview or other statement for the work we did to save his life.” Thomas indicated. “I still do not understand why the department chose to ignore the outstanding and decisive action we took to save his life.”
“I do wonder however, that if I were not a Black Fire Department Captain, would I not have been given the acknowledgement that would probably be extended to a White firefighter. Saving lives and property is what a firefighter does day in and day out.” He continued.
“The Los Angeles Fire Department missed an excellent opportunity to showcase the department as a Class One Operation, equipped to respond under the most difficult circumstances, whether it involves a world-class entertainer or an ordinary citizen.”
Thomas has been recently featured on a variety of local and nationally syndicated broadcasts and has been providing a first-hand account about what may have lead to Jackson’s dependency on pain medication.