Peter Brigham, MSW
Peter Brigham was born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where his mother became one of the first female United Way executive directors in the nation in 1947. She instilled in her son a social service orientation that has led to a productive 30-year career with the Burn Foundation in Philadelphia.
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s creation of the U.S. Peace Corps in April, 1961, Peter was accepted into one of its first training programs shortly after receiving his BA in English from Yale University. In 1962-63, he taught English, French and Latin and coached track and football (soccer to Americans) at one of the top secondary schools in Nigeria. After extensive travel in Africa and Europe he returned later in 1964 to study community organization at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
After obtaining his MSW in 1966, Peter worked in health and social service planning in the Philadelphia area before coming to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in 1973. Crozer and St. Agnes Medical Center had just founded the Burn Foundation of Greater Delaware Valley (renamed the “Burn Foundation” in 1983), to support their new burn centers and carry out education in burn prevention. In 1974 Peter was assigned to help staff the new agency, and in 1979 was selected as its president.
The 1970’s were a time of tremendous growth in the establishment of burn centers and in fire and burn prevention activity. Recognizing the lack of documentation and coordination of these efforts, Peter’s far-sighted mentor, Crozer-Chester President James Loucks, encouraged him to make a major time commitment to the American Burn Association (ABA). Dr. Loucks grasped both the potential central role of the ABA and, at the time, the limitations resulting from its lack of a central office and its natural preoccupation with clinical practice, teaching and research.
With similar encouragement from ABA leaders, notably Drs. Alan Dimick, Charles Baxter, Basil Pruitt and Charles Hartford, Peter soon expanded the organization’s visibility and connections in several directions. He compiled in 1975 the first comprehensive directory of burn care facilities in the U.S and Canada, began monitoring federal legislation and regulations relevant to burn prevention, and built bridges to numerous other national organizations and data sources related to burn injury and its causes. In 1976 he was appointed chairman of the Committee on Organization and Delivery of Burn Care, the first non-physician to chair an ABA standing committee, a position he held for an unprecedented four years. In 1979 he was elected to a two-year term on the ABA Board of Trustees, where he supported equalizing membership status within the ABA and encouraged the growing involvement of firefighters.
Peter was a key organizer and early Chairman of the Federation of Burn Foundations, which now includes close to 50 regional burn support organizations, most of them active in burn prevention. At the national level, he has long worked closely with fire-safe cigarette champion Andrew McGuire, notably in securing the endorsement of the American Public Health Association in 1980 and contracting with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in the early 1990’s to study burn center admissions resulting from cigarette-ignited fires.
Peter was honored by the ABA in 1984 with the Curtis P. Artz Distinguished Service Award for his many contributions to the burn world up to that time. Over the past 20 years, other ABA members and the new central office have assumed leadership in many of the areas where Peter broke ground, while he has continued to promote burn prevention through the ABA as an “ex officio” statistician member of the Burn Prevention Committee, a copy editor of the committee’s annual prevention guides, and, as a member of its editorial board, a frequent reviewer of epidemiology and prevention-related papers for the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation. He remains a primary source for the incidence and treatment statistics provided by ABA fact sheets.
Along with presenting about a dozen papers at the national meetings of the ABA and several other professional organizations, he has co-authored two major JBCR articles, a history of the development of North American burn centers, (in 1993, with Alan Dimick and Betty Sheehy) and a treatise on burn injury incidence trends and data sources (in 1996, with Elizabeth McLoughlin). The latter paper was the first to document the 50% decline in reportable burn injury and burn hospitalization since most federal data systems were established in the 1970’s, -coinciding with the growth of burn prevention as part of the ABA mission. Increased burn prevention efforts by ABA members may well have contributed significantly to this remarkable 25-year trend.