Darrell Martin knew that a whiff of propane he inhaled in his food truck was odd. But just about as soon as he headed toward the gas tank to check on it, a blast sent him airborne, his arms and legs flailing and in flames.
That day, three years ago, Martin was rushed to University Medical Center’s Lions Burn Care Center with life-threatening injuries.
On Friday morning, the scarred-but-healed 36-year-old returned for the first time, bearing plates of food for the staff that saved his life. The menu included the ribs, chicken and hot links he serves from his since-rebuilt Southern BBQ Pit truck.
Martin shook about a dozen or so hands, telling the overjoyed staffers how appreciative he was. Although covered by masks, smiles appeared abundant.
“You look great,” he was told. “You look awesome.”
“I just want to thank you all for taking care of me when I was at my worst,” he said. “I was just shocked that everyone showed up just like this. I thought I was just going to drop the food off and leave.”
Cara Goodman, the burn unit’s mental health counselor, called him a “role model.”
“You were still a pleasure to be with … you’re so positive,” she said.
Martin, who started cooking at age 15 in Memphis, Tennessee, moved to the Las Vegas Valley in 2016.
He loves barbecue because “you can never go wrong with barbecue,” he said. “You can barbecue during the winter and the summer.”
In pursuing a food truck business in 2016, Martin found his trade to not only be fulfilling but lucrative. The day of the explosion in October 2018, he was parked outside a Henderson grocery store, preparing his truck for one of the many events he worked.
Martin spent six weeks at UMC and underwent several surgeries and skin grafts. Several months in rehabilitation followed, and he had to relearn how to walk, he said.
He wanted to restart his business as soon as he healed, but it took him about four months to rebuild his food truck. He said he reflects on his trying recovery process and the professionalism and empathy he found at the hospital.
A self-described shy person, and a soft speaker, Martin’s tone rose when he discussed food.
The medical workers on Friday got a taste of his sense of humor when he was asked what lesson he learned from the ordeal, quipping: “Be very careful around propane tanks.”
His mobile restaurant, a trailer he hauls with a pickup truck, can be spotted at call centers, warehouses and food festivals. Later on Friday, he said he was going to serve free hot dogs to children at a Summerlin event and return to UMC to feed the burn unit staffers who work nights.
Before the room dispersed, Martin turned to the hospital workers to repeat his gratitude: “Thank you all, and I love you all for taking care of me.”