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Our View: Burn Awareness Week tips could prevent discomfort, injury, tragedy

A 72-year-old Smithsburg man died Monday after his home caught fire. He and his wife initially made it out, but he succumbed to burn injuries and smoke inhalation after going back in to try to put out the fire.

That serves as a tragic reminder that burn injuries are among the leading causes of accidental death and injury in the United States, according to the American Burn Association (ABA), which reports that approximately 400,000 people receive medical care for treatment of burn injuries each year. In 2018 alone, there were 3,655 deaths from fire and smoke inhalation and another 40,000 people were treated in hospitals for burn-related injuries, according to ABA data. Children, the elderly, and the disabled are especially vulnerable.

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National Burn Awareness Week is observed the first full week of February each year, proving an opportunity for burn care organizations, burn survivor support groups, public safety, and injury prevention professionals to increase awareness of the frequency and causes of burn injury in America, according to the ABA. The 2020 theme is “Contact Burns — Hot Surfaces Damage Skin!”

In recognition of National Burn Awareness Week (Feb. 2-8), the Office of the State Fire Marshal in Maryland sent out a news release sharing burn prevention information and reminding consumers that everyday items can be burn hazards.

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A contact burn is a type of burn most associated when skin touches something hot, such as pavement, a fireplace grate, or pans from the oven. Children under 5 face a higher risk. While a majority of contact burns result from contact with heat, some burns, such as frostbite or hypothermia, result from exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Hypothermia can affect anyone, but infants, the elderly, and people who suffer from diabetes or heart conditions are at greater risk.

“We want to remind Maryland parents, educators, and children that not all burns result from fires,” State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said via the release. “While most who suffer burn injuries will survive, many of those survivors will sustain serious scarring, life-long physical disabilities, and adjustment difficulties. To avoid common household products creating a burn injury, we urge consumers to be aware of items that present a hazard and take measures to prevent burns.”

The State Fire Marshal offers the following tips to prevent contact burns:

• Indoors, supervise children around space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, radiators, and stoves and ovens in use. Keep them 3 feet away from things that can get hot by using baby gates, high chairs and playpens.

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• Outdoors, keep children 3 feet away from barbecue grills and campfires. Keep area clear of trip hazards so no one falls into the fire.

• Turn heating pads, electric blankets and space heaters off before sleeping. This is especially important for older adults who can suffer serious burns more quickly as their skin thins with age.

• Have hot pads available whenever cooking. Long oven mitts are best when needing to reach in or over hot surfaces, such as inside an oven or over a grill. Assume all pots and pans are hot before touching.

• Remember to treat items coming from the microwave as you would items from the oven. Make sure children are taller than the microwave and supervise them using it.

• Protect your feet by wearing shoes when walking on hot pavement or sand.

The release reminds parents and caregivers that hot liquid burns are the leading burn problem in Maryland to children under 5, accounting for one in five of every burn reported. Coffee drinkers should be careful. Geraci recommends never holding or carrying a child with a hot drink in hand, using a travel mug with a tight-fitting lid, keeping hot drinks and soups away from the edge of tables and counters and turning pot handles inward to prevent children from pulling hot liquids onto themselves.

It’s all advice worth heeding to prevent anything from discomfort to a tragedy as Burn Awareness Week provides a good chance for families to talk about and take measures to avoid contact burns.

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