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Kitchen fire leaves Steelers running backs coach badly burned

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By Jill King Greenwood
Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012

An early morning kitchen fire left Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson hospitalized with severe burns on Friday as the football team prepared for its first-round playoff game in Denver.

"It's a very unfortunate situation. We're keeping him in our prayers and hope things aren't worse off for him," said linebacker James Farrior, who called Wilson a part of the team's family. "It definitely put things in perspective. Football is not everything. Life is fragile -- that's a proper perspective."

Neighbors said Wilson, 50, was "totally out of it" when they pounded on the front door of his home on Jameson Way in Seven Fields just before 3 a.m. and coaxed him outside.

"He opened the door. All this smoke came out. He was all bloody. He kept saying, 'I'm OK. I'm OK,'" said next-door neighbor Dave Van Atta, 25. "He just had boxers on. His foot was just, like, melted. ... He was in shock. You could tell he was totally out of it.

"I just saw his whole kitchen on fire," he said.

Paramedics took Wilson to UPMC Cranberry, then by helicopter to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, according to Cranberry public safety director Jeffrey Schueler. Wilson's condition was not known last night, but neighbors described severe burns across his arms and legs.

"He walked out himself," said neighbor James McCaffery. "His hands were peeled from here to here," he said, pointing to one of his wrists. "His feet were peeled."

No one else was in the home at the time of the blaze, authorities said. The fire marshal from the Butler barracks of the state police is investigating the blaze and had not determined a cause as of last night.

The blackened hood of Wilson's kitchen stove, a few chairs and a pair of burned doors lay in the townhouse's backyard hours after the fire.

"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with Kirby and his entire family," Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a written statement. "We are saddened to hear about this unfortunate situation but we know that he has the best medical care in the country treating him. The entire organization is praying for Kirby to have a full recovery and we will be by his side through this difficult time."

Steelers players were told of the fire at a 9 a.m. team meeting.

"We really don't know what's going on," said running back John Clay. "He's a great guy. He's helped me out in the meeting and stays late to help me with film."

Other players, including Charlie Batch, took to Twitter.

"Our thoughts & prayers are with you & your family Coach Kirb," Batch tweeted.

In Denver, where the Steelers will play on Sunday, members of the Broncos offered thoughts and prayers for Wilson.

"We're all hoping for the best," quarterback Tim Tebow told the Tribune-Review.

Wilson has coached running backs for the Steelers for five years, according to the team. He previously held the same job with the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A Los Angeles native, he played college football at Pasadena Community College and the University of Illinois before spending two seasons in the Canadian Football League as a defensive back and kick returner.

Wilson began his coaching career in 1985 at Pasadena Community College. He has five children.

"Coach is a smart dude who always wears a smile and motivates his guys," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. "He's that coach that everyone likes. Hopefully, everything will turn out right. He's in all of our prayers. ... Hopefully we'll see him one day soon."

Offensive assistant Harold Goodwin will take over Wilson's duties in Sunday's game.

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