Thousands of people annually suffer injuries in home fires in the U.S. The majority of fire-related deaths (about 70 percent) are caused by smoke inhalation of the toxic gases produced by fires. Fires and burns are a leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children ages 14 and under.
A burn injury usually results from an energy transfer to the body. There are many types of burns caused by thermal, radiation, chemical, or electrical contact, including the following:
- Thermal burns. Burns due to external heat sources which raise the temperature of the skin and tissues and cause tissue cell death or charring; Hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, and flames, when coming in contact with the skin, can cause thermal burns.
- Radiation burns. Burns due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, or to other sources of radiation such as X-ray.
- Chemical burns. Burns due to strong acids, alkalies, detergents, or solvents coming into contact with the skin and/or eyes.
- Electrical burns. Burns from electrical current, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).
According to the United States Fire Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one-third of residential fires that kill children are caused by children playing with flammable products, such as matches. In addition, smoking in the home and a lack of working smoke alarms can significantly increase the chance of dying in a residential fire. However, by taking appropriate steps to make your home safe, you can protect your children and your family from fires:
- Keep flammable products, such as matches, lighters, and candles locked and out of the reach of children.
- Don't smoke or allow others to smoke in your home.
- Install and maintain smoke alarms in your home.
- Keep and maintain your fire extinguishers.
- Maintain heating equipment, regularly have your furnace inspected, and turn off and unplug supplemental heaters when sleeping.
- Only burn logs in the fireplace with a fireplace screen in place to protect against sparks. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected yearly.
- Develop several fire escape plans from each room in the house and practice them regularly with your family.
- Make sure items such as clothing or blankets do not cover lamps that are turned on.
- Teach fire and burn safety behavior to your children.
In the event of a fire, it is important to get out of the house fast. A good family escape plan should include the following:
- Two escape routes from each room (in case one exit becomes blocked by the fire)
- A chain ladder for every upstairs bedroom
- A drawn floor plan of your home with arrows indicating escape routes
- Repeated practice to familiarize yourself and your children with the escape plan
- An agreed-on meeting place outside of the house
Electric shocks from appliances and electrical outlets and cords can burn the skin and cause tissue and nerve damage. To avoid electrical shock, take the following precautions:
- Keep electrical appliances away from sinks and bathtubs.
- Ensure that your electrical appliances are approved by Underwriter's Laboratories (UL), which is indicated on the box or appliance itself.
- Use ground fault circuit interrupters in areas near water, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and outside.
- Unplug electrical cords that are not in use. Keep electrical cords out of reach of children.
- Cover unused electrical outlets with safety covers.
- Turn off electrical equipment that is not being used.
Burns are among the most painful and devastating injuries to a person. Severe burns can require long periods of treatment, including rehabilitation, skin grafts, and physical therapy.
The skin of young children is thinner than adults, which means it burns deeper and at a lower temperature. In fact, it only takes seconds of exposure to hot tap water to burn a young child, according to data from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. Serious burns require hospitalization and skin grafts. However, by taking appropriate, preventive steps, you can protect your children from burns:
- Set your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees Fahreinheit (49 degrees Celsius) or below. Antiscald devices are now available for water faucets and shower heads to prevent scalding.
- Check the water temperature with your elbow, wrist, or bath thermometer before bathing your child.
- Use the back burners on stove as much as possible, away from the reach of children. Turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove.
- When cooking, put your toddler in a safe area, such as a high chair or play pen.
- Never carry a child while carrying a hot drink or hot food.
- Do not use tablecloths or placemats around young children (they can pull on them and spill hot food or drinks).
- Test microwaved foods and drinks before giving them to a young child. Avoid heating baby bottles in the microwave, as the heat may be unevenly distributed.
- Open microwaved containers away from you and your child, as the steam can scald the skin.
- Keep irons, curling irons, and other heat appliances and their cords out of a child's reach.
- Do not allow children to handle fireworks.
- Keep children away from kerosene lamps, supplemental heaters, and outdoor grills when in use.
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