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Keeping Safe from Burns

Burns are one of the leading causes of death among children, with most of these fatalities occurring in home fires. Even more often, deaths in fires are caused by smoke inhalation.

Your family's best protection against fire-related injuries is to equip your home with smoke detectors. Thousands of lives could be saved every year if detectors were in place, awakening families in time to allow them to escape their burning homes. Install the detectors throughout the house, mounting them on the ceiling or on the wall 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling. They should be placed in halls adjacent to the bedrooms, as well as in the living room, garage, and other parts of the home where they can awaken the family if a fire has broken out. Test battery-operated detectors every six months to ensure that the batteries are still fresh. In general, batteries need to be changed once a year. (Many units emit a beeping sound when the batteries become weak.)

Home fire extinguishers are another good idea. Keep extinguishers in the parts of the house where a fire is most likely to start (the kitchen and the work­room, for example). However, use the extinguisher only for a small fire; if the fire is large, everyone should leave the dwelling immediately, and you should call the fire department from a neighbor's home. If children are home alone, in­struct them to evacuate the house at once in case of a fire, even if it is a small one. Your child should learn to call 911, but he should understand that his own safety comes first, and he should make the call from another home.

Hold regular fire drills with everyone in the family participating. During these drills, plan and rehearse all possible escape routes for fires occurring in various parts of the house, as well as a place for family members to meet once they are outside. Since many fires—including most fatal ones—occur at night, conduct some of your drills after dark. A flashlight should be available at the bedside of every family member. Also, teach your children to "stop, drop, and roll" if their clothing should catch fire.

Of course, discourage your children from playing with matches, lighted can­dles, cigarette lighters, or other flammable devices. Also, keep in mind that most fatal home fires are caused by adults and their cigarettes; typically, a cig­arette or its ashes fall on a bed or a couch, smolder for several hours, and then burst into flames, often after the family is asleep. Do not smoke in your house. Portable heaters also are responsible for many home fires and burns, and if their use is necessary, they should be used only with great caution.

Most burns that are not fatal are not related to fires. Most often, these are scalds from hot liquids—for example, when a child turns over a cooking pot upon himself, or turns the knobs on a bathtub faucet so that hot water flows on him. Children also sometimes suffer burns by touching a hot iron, a coil on an electric stove, a curling iron, hot barbecue charcoal, or fireworks.

To avoid scalding burns, reduce the temperature of your water heater so the water is never hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep hot irons out of chil­dren's reach and keep children away from the stove when food is cooking. Also, keep hot-steam vaporizers away from a child's reach, and keep portable heaters away from children and from flammable materials, such as curtains, as well. Teach your child not to play with matches.

In recent years, nearly 12,000 people in the United States were treated for fireworks-related injuries in emergency departments; more than half were chil­dren. Every type of legally available firework has caused serious injury or death. Fireworks should never be used by children or other family members. Rather than risk your child's health, families should attend public fireworks displays conducted by professionals.  

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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