It can feel great to get outside after many months of being stuck inside, whether that means lighting a bonfire, BBQing dinner or lighting off some fireworks to celebrate Victoria Day.
The May long weekend also marks the beginning of ‘trauma season’, and our Ross Tilley Burn Centre (RTBC) has already started to see a spike in admissions of patients who have been burned in bonfires or scalded while cooking. However, there are a few simple things you can do to stay safe and injury-free.
Dr. Marc Jeschke, medical director of the RTBC at Sunnybrook, says that common sense can prevent many of the injuries they see each summer.
“In the summer, you’re more relaxed, maybe some alcohol is involved. This is when burn injuries can happen,” says Dr. Jeschke. Here are some of the most common causes of burn injuries RTBC staff see, and how to prevent them:
BBQs and fire pits
When barbecuing, Dr. Jeschke says, stick to the rules: use fireproof gear, don’t put gasoline or igniter fluid on the grill and don’t wear loose, flowing clothing while cooking.
“With loose clothing, you turn around quickly or get too close, and the fire ignites the clothes. You then have a major injury for no reason whatsoever,” says Dr. Jeschke.
He recommends waiting until after you’ve finished cooking to consume alcohol. The same principle applies to tabletop fireplaces, which have been growing in popularity as a backyard patio feature.
“These can be dangerous because they’re at the exact same height as small children and pets. Keep loose clothing away from these too, and don’t throw any accelerants on them,” he says.
Ethanol-fueled fire pots
Ethanol-fueled fire pots are often more decorative in nature, set on tabletops or in small bowls or pots, but don’t let that fool you: they are dangerous because they use highly flammable fuels, like butane and ethanol. In fact, Health Canada issued a consumer warning in 2019 and asked manufacturers to stop selling these products.
“Explosions can happen when you try to re-light the fire, because there can still be fumes or low flames that can ignite during the refuelling process,” says Anne Hayward, a social worker at the RTBC.
If you have an ethanol-fueled fire pot at home, Dr. Jeschke recommends getting rid of it.
“We’ve seen way too many people injured while refueling ethanol fire pots. It can happen to anyone. They are dangerous, and they can be deadly,” he says.
Outdoor maintenance and bonfires
“Lately, we have been seeing more people injured doing work around their homes, or on machinery like lawn mowers and boats,” says Dr. Jeschke.
If you’re clearing brush from your property and decide to start a bonfire, “do not pour gasoline or another igniter fluid onto a fire that’s already burning. The fire can come right back up into the container you’re holding, which will then explode,” he says.
Always have a container of water nearby or a garden hose on standby before starting a bonfire.
“Fireworks can be dangerous because if a large number of fireworks blow up, you get explosive burns,” says Dr. Jeschke.
Read safety instructions for fireworks before using them, and don’t let children be around them unattended. Don’t use fireworks inappropriately, like letting them explode in your hands or holding them while igniting them.
If you do suffer a burn:
If it’s a significant burn, call 911. While waiting for help to arrive, don’t put butter, vinegar, oil or lemons on the burn.
“The best initial treatment for all burns is cool running water. Don’t soak the injured area, just let the water run over it,” says Dr. Jeschke.