Every year, almost 70,000 U.S. people are treated in emergency departments for burns, and a whopping one-third of those are children under the age of 5.
It’s easier than you might think for caregivers and parents to get distracted while making dinner, entertaining friends, or engaging in outdoor activities. Accidents can and do occur — and they can happen in the blink of an eye. When I was a teenager, I suffered second-degree burns from an accident at home, which resulted in immediate hospitalization and several months of treatment. This is why it is crucial to include the entire family in conversations surrounding fire safety.
7 Tips for Fire Safety
As soon as they are able to understand, I encourage you to speak with your child in an age-appropriate manner about the dangers of burns. The following prevention tips can help keep you and your family safe.
1. Create a “kid-free zone.” A minimum of three feet around areas and appliances such as space heaters, stoves, and microwaves is a good rule of thumb, and brightly colored tape can serve as a good visual reminder for children of any age. It’s also wise to get in the habit of using the back burners of the stove and keeping pot handles turned away from the edge. And don’t hold a child while you’re cooking or are carrying a hot drink.
2. Limit kids’ use of the microwave. Always treat items being removed from the microwave in a similar manner as you would those coming out of the oven. Microwaved noodles are one of the No. 1 reasons pediatric patients are seen for burns. And never microwave a baby’s bottle, as food and liquids can be heated unevenly, causing burns.
3. Avoid placemats and tablecloths. Children can tug on these, causing hot liquid or food to spill. Consider keeping a travel mug on hand with a tight-fitting lid for hot liquids like coffee or tea.
4. Set your hot water heater thermostat at 120 F. Or just below the medium setting, and test the water with a thermometer. When bathing young kids, a safe temp is 100 F. Check for hot spots in the water with your hand. And don’t ever leave a child unattended in the tub, even for a few seconds! Five seconds — that’s the short time in which a child can be scalded in water at 140 F (60 C). Constant supervision of children is the most important factor when it comes to preventing tap water burns, in addition to drowning. Also, be sure to face the child away from the faucet so he or she cannot reach it.
5. Keep fireplace remote controls and switches out of reach of children. Remember, glass fireplace doors can continue to be hot to the touch for up to one hour after use. And teach kids to never put anything into the fireplace.
6. Don’t leave kids unsupervised around open flames like grills, fire pits, campfires, or candles. The majority (70 percent) of campfire burns are caused by embers, rather than flames. A fire pit can remain hot enough to cause a severe burn for up to 12 hours after it’s been extinguished. Create a “safety circle” of at least three feet from the edges of fire pits and campfires, even long after the fire has been put out.
7. Check electronic toys often for wear and tear. Repair or toss out any object that sparks, feels hot to the touch, or smells odd. Regularly replace batteries, and look for any obvious signs of corrosion. Button high-powered lithium batteries, no bigger than a nickel, are often used to power small electronic devices, including watches, remote controls, musical greeting cards, and ornaments. If accidentally swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and generate an electrical current that causes severe chemical burns and tissue damage. If your child has swallowed one of these batteries, report to the nearest emergency room immediately.
How to Treat a Burn
If a burn does occur, follow these treatment steps:
- Use cool (not cold) tap water to help stop the burning process.
- Remove all clothing and/or diaper from the injured area.
- Do not attempt to clean or dress the wounds. That means no ice, ointments, or bandages! Simply cover the area in a clean, dry sheet. Keep the child warm.
- Seek medical attention immediately at an emergency department, no matter how small the burn may seem. We encourage all burns to be seen because some can cause further damage for up to 24 hours after the initial injury, changing it from a second-degree burn to a third-degree burn.
The Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center is prepared around the clock to treat children with serious illnesses and injuries, including burns. If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911. For more information, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/emergency.
About the Author
Ramona Criss, RN, is the coordinator for the Snyder Family Burn and Wound Care Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.