AUGUSTA, GA (WTOC) - With children home for the summer, and a celebration of independence on tap, the risk of getting burned or injured rises like the temperature. At the top of the risk list is summer bonfires, said Dr. Fred Mullins, President of Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc. & Medical Director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga, the largest Burn Center in the United States.
"Usually, bonfires are accompanied by large gatherings and drinking, which can lead to carelessness," Dr. Mullins said. "It is in that moment of carelessness that catastrophe can happen."
There are some simple tips to ensure your bonfire is as safe as possible:
• Designate someone to be in charge of the fire, and ensure that they are in control of what is added to the fire and when.
• Create a three-foot safe zone around the fire, using rocks or other non-flammable material, to encircle the burn area.
• Keep the fire at a reasonable height. With flames, bigger is not necessarily better.
• Store firewood away from the burn area.
• Do not put paint cans, trash or other potentially dangerous items in the fire. Not only could these items explode, they may produce toxic fumes when burned.
• Always douse the fire with water when the bonfire is over. Then stir the ashes with a shovel and douse them again. Mark the area clearly so that no one could accidentally walk through leftover hot coals.
• Make sure everyone knows to Stop, Drop and Roll if clothing catches fire. Call 911 or your local emergency number if a burn warrants serious medical attention.
Similar precautions can go a long way toward making fireworks safe also. Remember, there are no "safe" fireworks.
"Of course, we recommend leaving fireworks in the hands of professionals, but we also know people are going to buy them and fire them off," Dr. Mullins said. "It is these smaller fireworks that are often the most dangerous."
For example, sparklers leave behind extremely hot pieces of metal that can cause severe burns if touched. Also, even small firecrackers can cause burns or traumatic hand injuries.
"Most of the time, the injuries we see from fireworks could have been avoided by using just a little common sense," Dr. Mullins said. "Remember: You can never be too careful when dealing with fireworks."
Among the ways to ensure a fireworks-safe Independence Day:
• Create a "blast zone" that is away from structures, people, dry grass and other flammable items. Fireworks should never be fired indoors.
• Designate an adult as the safety person, another adult as the "shooter" and someone to be in charge of keeping children clear of the "shooting" area. Let children enjoy the show, not be part of it.
• Make sure the "shooter" is not wearing loose clothing that could ignite, and follows all directions on the fireworks label. If the device does not have a warning and/or instructions label, do not fire it.
• Get a flashlight to light the area so the "shooter" can see what he or she is doing.
• Never stand over an item that does not fire.
• Never throw fireworks. A malfunctioning fuse could cause the item to go off in your hand.
• Ensure a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water is nearby just in case there is an accident.
Dr. Mullins said the burn center also receives a fair number of patients each year who have been injured while lighting or using an outdoor grill. Most often, these injuries occur when the person is trying to light the grill and a pocket of gas ignites.
"These burns are usually not very deep, but they are awfully painful and can require extensive skin grafts to heal," Dr. Mullins said. Simple steps, such as checking hoses before using a grill, and never using anything other than lighter fluid to try to ignite charcoal, can go a long way toward keeping you safe. Other tips include:
• Before using the grill, make sure it's at least 10 feet away from other objects, including the house or bushes.
• Always follow manufacturers' instructions when operating a grill.
• Never use a match to check for leaks.
• Keep gas hoses as far away from grease and hot surfaces as possible.
• Replace nicked or scratched connectors.
• Check tubes for blockage from insects or grease using a pipe cleaner.
• Never start a gas grill with the lid closed.
• Never use barbecue grills indoors.
• Keep lighter fluid container away from the grill.
• Utility/Barbeque lighters are not safe for children and should not be left outdoors where the elements may weaken or damage the plastic.
• Always turn on utility light before you turn on gas or propane.
• Always shut off propane tank valve when not in use.
At the same time, it is important to avoid getting burned while out in the sun. Each year, the burn center treats several patients with severe sunburns. Some of those cases require surgery to speed the healing process. Just this year, Dr. Mullins said, the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital has admitted a couple of children under the age of five who were sunburned.
"Parents need to remember that children's skin is thinner than an adult and they are far more susceptible to getting sunburned," he said. "We recommend using sunscreen with at least a SPF of 35, and reapplying the sunscreen every 30 minute. Also, you should keep children under one year of age out of the direct sunlight, and avoid using sunscreen on any child under six months of age."
If you or your child does get a sunburn, you should apply cool compresses and moisturize the burned area with an alcohol-free lotion. Do not apply oil or butter and do not use harsh soap scrubs.
Remember that pavement burns too. Hot sand or asphalt can severely burn the skin on the bottom of the feet while walking.
There are also dangers inside the home during the summer, especially in the kitchen.
"We see potentially severe burns nearly every day from families heating food and beverages in the microwave," said Dr. Mullins. "Instant noodles are especially dangerous because the water has to get so hot that the container becomes unstable and can spill when you pick it up."
Just as with a bonfire, an established "safe zone" is most effective for keeping people - especially children - safe in the kitchen.
Other ways to stay safe in the kitchen include:
• Never leave any unattended items on the stove top, and make sure all handles are out of the reach of children.
• Never drink or carry hot liquids while carrying or holding a child.
• Keep all hot items away from the sides of the table.
• Remember, items heated in the microwave can be exceptionally hot and cause internal burns.
• Try to avoid using tablecloths which could allow a child to pull hot liquids off a table.
So what happens if you do get sunburned? Dr. Mullins offers a few simple "dos" and don'ts" to help alleviate the pain and skin damage:
• DO take a cool shower or bath, or use a cold, damp towel to apply pressure.
• DO wear loose-fitting clothes that do not irritate the skin.
• DO take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen.
• DO apply aloe or lotion to help cool and moisturize the burn.
• DO NOT use butter or oil as they may exacerbate the burn.
• DO NOT burst any blisters, as this may encourage infection to set in.
• DO NOT take prescription pain pills without consulting a doctor.
Burns, however, are not the only injuries that can crop up during the summer. Carelessness with fireworks and summer yard maintenance can also cause injuries to the hands, which require special care provided by a team of hand specialists at JMS.
Proper care for a hand injury, according to Dr. Mullins, begins shortly after the injury occurs. For example, if there is a complete amputation of a digit(s), call 911 first and work to control any bleeding. Then, safely collect the amputated parts and keep them moist and cool. However, direct contact between the amputated digit and ice can cause even more damage. Remember, time is important: muscles can be damaged within eight hours if not treated.
For severe lacerations, such as dog bites, focus on stopping or controlling the bleeding and getting the wound clean. If there is a large foreign body still in the wound - a nail, for example - leave it there. Let the medical professionals remove it.