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Summer is a time to kick back and relax, but not for the hardworking team at the University of Utah Health Burn Center. The number of burn injuries treated increases in summer as people engage in activities involving fire and incendiary devices, and children are the most at risk to be injured.
“In the summer months, there are five leading causes of burn injury,” said Brad Wiggins, R.N., nurse manager of the burn center. “Every one of them is preventable with just a bit of foresight and care.”
Campfires and bonfires are the centerpieces of outdoor adventures all over the U.S.; however, they are also a major cause of burn injuries.
“We see an enormous number of injuries from campfires and bonfires every year,” said Annette Newman, R.N., community outreach coordinator for the burn center.
To stay safe around a campfire, it’s best to establish a three-foot perimeter around it. Any closer puts you in the danger zone. Parents or responsible adults need to make sure everyone maintains that perimeter.
Another important safety tip when it comes to outdoor fires is to never use lighter fluid or any other accelerant to start them. These products can lead to fires getting out of control quickly or can cause immediate injury to the person attempting to get the fire going.
“We have taken care of plenty of people where the fire follows the stream of lighter fluid back to the container and explodes it over several people,” Wiggins said.
Extinguishing your fire properly is just as important as starting it properly. Remember that coals can stay hot up to 12 hours after a fire is put out. That means they can still cause a burn injury.
“Burn injuries, especially to the hands and face — which are often sustained when falling into a campfire — can be devastating. Even small injuries can have lifelong consequences,” Newman said.
In Will Smith's song “Summertime,” the Fresh Prince rhymes “the smell of the grill can spark up nostalgia.” Hopefully, those memories are simply of fun backyard barbecues and not burn injuries. Grills can get extremely hot, and, in some cases, are extremely easy to tip over.
“Grills should always be kept well out of the way of lawn games, kids playing and foot traffic,” Wiggins said. “One hard nudge could lead to coals spilling all over and burn injuries.”
If you are using a propane grill, make sure that all connections are tightened and that there are no propane leaks. You can check for leaks by applying a light soap and water solution to the hose and checking for bubbles when the propane is turned on. If there are no bubbles, the grill is safe to use. If you can smell propane at all, turn the grill off immediately.
With both types of grill, make sure you are wearing tight-fitting or short-sleeved clothing to avoid accidentally lighting clothing on fire.
Proper upkeep of your grill is also important. Over time, grease and fat can build up on the grill surface and drip trays, which can lead to fires that burn dangerously out of control. “Before you grill, clean the surface and empty all drip pans,” Newman said.
Would you let your small child run around waving a 2,000-degree blowtorch? No, you wouldn’t. Yet, parents have no problem handing their children sparklers, which burn just as hot.
“Sparklers are very, very dangerous,” Wiggins said. “Something burning at that temperature will give a third-degree burn in less than a second.”
While children should never handle fireworks, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy them. All fireworks need to be lit on the ground and at a safe distance from spectators. Those lighting the fireworks should be following label instructions and wearing proper protective gear and eyewear. Also, it is important to remember that fireworks and alcohol do not mix.
“When you are lighting an explosive device you need to have the utmost caution,” said Newman. “You also want to make sure your behavior is not being irresponsibly influenced by intoxicants.”
The warmer weather means heading to the pumps to fill up the little red gas cans used to feed lawnmowers and other summer tools. Where you store that little red can will reduce your risk of burn injury.
“Keep your gas can in a cool and well-ventilated area,” Wiggins said. “Remember that gas vapors can ignite from up to 12 feet away from the source, so keep incendiary devices at a distance.”
It is also important to keep gasoline out of the reach of kids. For some, summer boredom may lead to literally playing with fire. “Don’t give them the opportunity to experiment,” Newman said. “You are not only protecting them by keeping gas and other burn hazards out of reach but protecting your property and others as well.”
It is also important to teach children about fire safety at an early age so they know to stay away from matches, lighters and other flammable items. You can reinforce these lessons by using fire sources in a responsible manner.
Most sunburns are easily treatable at home, but there are exceptions. If you develop blisters over a significant part of your body you need to seek medical help. “Dehydration can occur and you may need to seek medical help,” Wiggins said. “These open areas are second-degree burns and will require wound care and treatment.”
You should also seek treatment if you develop a fever, chills, nausea or dizziness. If a sunburn doesn’t seem to be healing or appears to be infected, it is a good idea to get it checked out.
The best way to avoid a sunburn is — obviously — staying out of the sun. That doesn’t sound like very much fun though. So be sure to wear protective clothing and cover any exposed skin with sunscreen. “Make sure you are reapplying sunscreen,” Newman said. "This is not a once and done thing. You should always reapply often – make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.”
The summer months should be spent outside, having fun and enjoying friends and family. They should not be spent inside a hospital or dealing with pain from a burn injury. Seventy percent of all burn injuries are easily preventable.
“It’s all about making smart choices,” Wiggins said.
Interested in learning more? Check out the University of Utah Health Burn Center’s website or this story about a boy who got the help he needed after suffering burns when a gas can caught fire.
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