Holiday Season Burn Safety

warmly lit Christmas tree with presents, next to a fireplaceThe holidays are times when people enjoy spending with family and friends. During this time, many choose to host big dinner parties and to decorate their homes with trees, lights and candles. Unfortunately, the holiday season can also be a time for accidents and injuries, especially in terms of burn injuries, with causes ranging from candles igniting house fires to individuals burned while cooking and preparing food.

Michael A. Marano, MD, Medical Director at the Burn Center, at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility and New Jersey’s only certified Burn Center offers some insight into burn safety for the holiday season. The holidays and new year are a happy time for most of us, but it can also be a hectic time for those who work at The Burn Center.

“Winter is our busiest season,” said Dr. Marano, “Burns caused by cooking accidents, holiday lights and decorations, faulty heaters and other things—both seasonal and not—send patients to The Burn Center for treatment.”

According to Dr. Marano the most common burns cases seen at the Burn Center around the holidays are caused by cooking.

“When there’s a gathering of people for a meal and more things are happening than usual in the kitchen, we tend to see more burn accidents,” said Dr. Marano.

Burn Safety Precautions When Preparing a Holiday Meal

First and foremost, Dr. Marano emphasizes that people need to keep children out of the kitchen and away from hot liquids.

“No matter what time of year it is, the largest group of patients we see at the Burn Center is small children with scald burns,” said Dr. Marano. “Keep kids out of the kitchen when cooking and even off your lap while you’re drinking hot drinks and turn pot handles inward so they can’t be grabbed by little ones.”

For those doing the cooking, Dr. Marano recommends using proper cookware for preparing large dishes.

“We tend to see a lot of handling burn injuries,” Dr. Marano added. “For instance, people use these disposable flexible pans to cook a large turkey in and the pan will buckle when it’s removes it from the oven, splashing hot liquid all over you. You need proper cookware for preparing large dishes.”

For those that deep fry their holiday turkey, there are even more safety precautions to follow.

“You need to set the deep fryer up away from your house to prevent a home fire,” said Dr. Marano. “You also need to be sure to use the right amount of oil. Deep frying a turkey involves displacement of a scalding hot liquid, so that’s where a lot of people can get in trouble.”

Dr. Marano also reminds people to be sure to use a completely thawed out and dry turkey because any moisture left in the turkey can ignite when it’s met with the hot oil. And of course, keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Candle Safety Around the Holidays

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the number of fires started by candles nearly doubles during the month of December. Whether they are for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or just because they look and smell wonderful, Dr. Marano urges people to never forget that candles are in fact an open flame. Candle safety tips that Dr. Marano suggests include:

  • Reminding children that lit candles are only for looking at and should not be touched
  • Never placing candles near anything flammable or where they can be knocked over by people or pets
  • Never reach over an open flame
  • Never leave candles unattended
  • Always place candles in sturdy holders that won’t tip over
  • Always extinguish candles thoroughly before leaving the room

“There are some great LED candle options that people can choose from nowadays, too, that look and smell real but are much safer,” he added.

Christmas Tree Safety

If you decorate the house with a fresh Christmas tree, you need to water it every day.

“Real trees can easily dry out and catch fire very quickly,” said Dr. Marano. “Keep real trees watered and don’t place them near open flames or heat sources like a fireplace.

Dr. Marano adds that synthetic trees are much safer options, but if you prefer a real tree, do not use incandescent lights, use LED lights. They don’t heat up and present less of a fire risk.

Staying Warm

“Another reason people get burned is because they are trying to stay warm,” says Dr. Marano. “Whether it’s from an older heating system in an older building or space heater in a newer one, these systems can burn by contact, especially children, the aged or the cognitively impaired who aren’t aware of the danger.”

If you own your home, have your heating system checked annually. If you rent, make sure your building superintendent is doing the same.

When using a portable space heater, read the directions carefully and make sure you know how to use it safely.

“Do not place it where a child or pet could knock it over,” said Dr. Marano. “Keep newspapers, magazines and flammable materials like curtains, clothes or bedding at least three feet away from any heat source.”

If you have a fireplace, Dr. Marano recommends having the chimney professional cleaned every year and keeping it covered with a screen to keep the sparks in.

“Never burn paper or other non-firewood materials in the fireplace, as embers can escape,” he added. “Never leave a fire burning unattended, either and make sure a fire is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed.”

The Burn Center

The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas is the only state-certified burn treatment facility in New Jersey, and one of the largest in North America. With 12 Intensive Care beds and an 18-bed Step-down Unit for less critically injured patients, the Burn Center meets the verification criteria of the American Burn Association and the American College of Surgeons to provide optimal care for burn patients.

“The Burn Center is equipped to treat pediatric through geriatric burn patients with a full range of specialized services, including a dedicated outpatient department where individuals with small or minor burns receive treatment and discharged patients return for follow-up care,” said Dr. Marano.

At the Burn Center, a dedicated team of multidisciplinary medical professionals are committed to restoring each patient to their optimal functional capacity.

“Our team includes burn surgeons, burn technicians, burn and advance practice nurses, occupations, physical and respiratory therapists, social workers, child life specialists, dieticians and case managers,” added Dr. Marano.

For more information about the Burn Center, click here or call (973) 322-5920.