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Preventing Burns: Advice on How to Keep Safe This Winter

When it is cold outside, we tend to gather in the kitchen or around the fireplace. That makes this a particularly dangerous time for house fires and the resulting burns. “Winter in the Northeast is a busy time of year for us,” says Michael A. Marano, M.D., medical director of the Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

Cooking fires are the leading cause of house fires, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More children are injured in winter than in other seasons due to scalding from hot water, says Dr. Marano. “Most accidents occur in the kitchen,” he says. “Children tend to get underfoot, especially during family gatherings and holidays.” The CDC reports that more than 300 children daily are treated in emergency rooms for burn-related injuries, and each day, on average, two children die as a result of being burned. Younger children are more likely to sustain injuries from scald burns that are caused by hot liquids or steam, while older ones are more apt to suffer flame burns caused by direct contact with fire.

To keep you and your loved ones safe this winter, Dr. Marano offers some helpful tips:

  • Cook sober. “Drinking while you prepare meals is a bad idea,” he says.
  • Never leave food unattended on the stove.
  • Supervise children’s use of stovesovens and especially microwaves. Better still, keep young children out of the kitchen while cooking if possible, he says.
  • Turn the handles of pots and pans toward the side of the stove, or use the back burners, so kids don’t pull them down.
  • Don’t wear clothing with long sleeves, scarves or other loose fabric when you are cooking. “Clothes can catch fire when you are reaching over burners, especially when the stove controls are in back or the microwave is above the stove,” he says.
  • Store matches and lighters in a locked cabinet, away from children.
  • Never leave candles unattended. Blow them out when you leave the room. “Any celebratory occasion where you use candles for various reasons, religious or otherwise, has risk,” Dr. Marano says.

Heating and hot water accidents are also common in winter. The doctor recommends that people use space heaters carefully and teach children to stay away from them. Be sure that bath water temperature is set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Use cool-water humidifiers or vaporizers, especially for children.

Finally, smokers need to remember to be careful indoors and especially to avoid smoking in bed. Smoking materials are the leading cause of deaths in house fires, the CDC says. “You’d think that would have stopped back in the 1970s, but it didn’t,” Dr. Marano says. “People tend to run that risk more in winter because the cold keeps them indoors. Before you know it, you can have a house fire.”