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Fire Safety and Burns Overview

What are the different types of burns?

A burn injury usually results from an energy transfer from a heat source to the body. There are many types of burns caused by thermal, radiation, chemical, friction, or electrical contact.

  • Thermal burns are caused by heat sources that raise the temperature of the skin and tissues and cause tissue cell death or charring. Hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, and flames can cause thermal burns.

  • Radiation burns are caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, or to other sources of radiation, such as X-rays.

  • Chemical burns are caused by strong acids or alkaloids coming into contact with the body.

  • Friction burns are caused when heat is created between an object and the skin. The object is usually moving at a high rate of speed.

  • Electrical burns are caused by contact with an electrical current, such as open wiring or being struck by lightning.

Fires are one of the leading causes of accidental injury-related deaths among children and teens. In the U.S., most fire-related deaths are due to home fires. On average, these fast-moving fires give families only 2 minutes to escape.

The leading cause of residential fire-related death and injury among children ages 5 and younger is child play, when children are left unattended. Most fires started by child play are set with matches or lighters.

But taking a few precautions in your home can go a long way in keeping your family safe. You can make your home more fire- and burn-proof by taking the following steps:

  • Install and maintain your smoke alarms (working smoke alarms can cut the chance of dying in a residential fire in half). There should be at least one alarm on every floor. Alarms should be close to every room where family members sleep. Alarms should be tested once a month and batteries replaced at least every 6 months.

  • Keep children at least 3 feet away from anything that gets hot. Space heaters and stovetop ovens can cause life-threatening burns.

  • Cook with care. Don't leave small children alone in the kitchen when food is cooking. Turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove. If you have toddlers, don't use tablecloths. Small children may pull on the edge of the cloth and accidentally dump hot food on top of them.

  • Have a plan for babies and small children who can't get out of the house on their own. Identify who will get each child out of the house.

  • Teach children how to respond to a smoke alarm. Teach them to "get low and get out." Teach them to never go back into the house.

  • Install sprinkler systems.

  • Develop a fire escape plan with your family and practice fire drills. Make certain everyone knows two escape routes out of every room. Identify an outside meeting place.

  • Keep and maintain your fire extinguishers.

  • Lower the setting on water heater thermostats to 120°F or below to prevent scald burns.

  • Bathe children with their backs to the water faucets so they can't accidentally turn on the hot water.

  • Never leave a child or children alone in a bathtub, even for "a few seconds."

  • Install anti-scald devices in water faucets and shower heads.

  • Teach fire and burn safety behavior to your children. Never play with matches or lighters in front of your children. Keep these items in a secure location out of children's reach.

  • Keep candles out of children's reach. Always blow them out when you leave the room and at night.

  • Keep harsh chemicals such as drain cleaners out of children's reach. If possible, put them in a locked cabinet.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tennille Dozier RN BSN RDMS
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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