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Fire Safety

The importance of fire safety

Each year, thousands of people are injured in home fires in the U.S. Most fire-related deaths 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 younger.

What are the different types of burns?

Burns can be classified by their cause:

  • Thermal burns. Burns from external heat sources that 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 from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, or to other sources of radiation, such as X-ray.

  • Chemical burns. Burns from strong acids, alkalis, detergents, or solvents coming into contact with the skin or eyes.

  • Electrical burns. Burns from electrical current, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).

Preventing fires and burns

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, residential fires that kill children are often 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. But 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.

  • Never play with matches or lighters in front of children.

  • Don't smoke or allow others to smoke in your home. Make sure that all smoking products are completely out.

  • Install smoke alarms in bedrooms, outside sleeping areas, and on every level of your home. Test monthly and replace every 10 years.

  • 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.

  • Be vigilant with candles. Never place lit candles in a window where blinds or curtains could catch fire.

  • 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. Role model safe behavior for your children.

The family escape plan

In the event of a fire, it is important to get out of the house fast. A good family escape plan should include:

  • 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 showing escape routes

  • Repeated practice so you and your family know the escape plan

  • An agreed-on meeting place outside the house

Electrical safety

Electric shocks from appliances and electrical outlets and cords can burn the skin and cause tissue and nerve damage. To prevent electrical shock, take these precautions:

  • Keep electrical appliances away from sinks and bathtubs.

  • Make sure that your electrical appliances are approved by Underwriters Laboratories, which is indicated on the box or appliance itself.

  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters in areas near water, such as the kitchen and bathroom, and outdoors.

  • Unplug electrical cords that aren't 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.

  • Teach children about electrical safety in an age-appropriate manner. Role model the safe behavior you teach them.

Preventing burns

Burns are among the most painful and devastating injuries to a person. Severe burns can need 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 for hot tap water to burn a young child. Serious burns need hospitalization and skin grafts. But by taking the correct preventive steps, you can protect your children from burns:

  • Set your water heater thermostat to 120°F (49°C) or below. Antiscald devices are 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 the stove as much as possible, away from the reach of children. Turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove.

  • Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove when you are cooking

  • When cooking, put your toddler in a safe area, such as a highchair or playpen.

  • Never carry a child while carrying a hot drink or hot food.

  • Don't use tablecloths or place mats around young children. Children can pull on them and spill hot food or drinks.

  • Test microwaved foods and drinks before giving them to a young child. Don't heat 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.

  • Don't allow children to handle fireworks.

  • Keep children away from kerosene lamps, supplemental heaters, and outdoor grills when in use.

  • Teach children about fire safety in an age-appropriate manner. Role model the safe behavior you teach them.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
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