Burn Featured Injury Prevention

Five ways to stay safe from fires and burns

Written by Sybil Millar

There are steps that everyone can take to keep themselves and their families safe from fires and burn injuries. Here are five tips from Dr. Marc Jeschke, Medical Director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook:

1) Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Fires spread incredibly quickly, as this video shows. You only have only a minute or two to get of a burning building, so it’s essential to be alerted to a fire as quickly as possible.

“Having a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your home can mean the difference between life and death,” says Dr. Jeschke.

Test your equipment regularly, and replace the batteries when necessary. Don’t forget that smoke detectors have an expiry date listed on the back – they need to be replaced every ten years.

2) Take care when cooking

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, more people are preparing and cooking meals at home. Keep some simple safety tips in mind, such as not wearing 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.

Stay in the kitchen at all times when you’re cooking, move anything that can catch fire away from your stovetop and keep kids away from areas where hot foods or liquids are being prepared, like stoves and microwaves.

3) Don’t use dangerous equipment, like blowtorches, inside

Cold weather in the winter can cause frozen pipes, furnace breakdowns and other issues around the house. Dr. Jeschke’s advice? Call in the experts.

“You should not be doing things like taking a blowtorch to a frozen pipe. You don’t know for sure whether there’s water in that pipe, or if it’s actually a fuel line that could heat up and explode,” he says.

Running generators inside is also a big no-no. You can’t see, taste or smell carbon monoxide, which is why you should be checking your carbon monoxide detector to make sure it’s working. The same goes for smoking or having an open flame around propane-powered appliances.

4) Layer up – frostbite is a burn, too

If you know you’ll be outside for an extended period of time, dress for the weather. The feeling of pins and needles, lack of feeling in a certain area, or skin that is hard and pale may mean you’ve developed frostbite.

“Frostbite is no joke. The effect it has on the skin is similar to a burn, so people with severe frostbite are treated here in the burn centre. If your skin turns black and then blisters, you’re in trouble. Get medical attention immediately,” says Dr. Jeschke.

Take extra care when fuelling up your car in the winter, and wear gloves when doing so. “Getting gasoline on your hands when it’s very cold out will cause your skin to freeze within seconds,” he says.

More tips to protect yourself from frostbite »

5) Use common sense

Dr. Jeschke says many of the injuries they see in the burn centre are the result of poor judgment. Simple activities like smoking and cooking can become deadly if a person falls asleep. Dropping a lit cigarette onto the carpet or leaving a stove unattended can ignite a fire very quickly.

“Maybe someone’s decision-making ability was impaired by drugs or alcohol, or they didn’t stop to think about the potentially dangerous consequences of a situation,” he says. “Don’t be that person.”


Note: this article was originally posted in January 2018 and updated in February 2021.

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for Infection Prevention and Control, Infectious Diseases, the Ross Tilley Burn Centre and the Critical Care program at Sunnybrook.

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