MADISON, Wis. — The next time you are sitting around the campfire for s’mores or flipping hamburgers at a family cookout, make sure the kids are kept out of harm’s way.
“Fire is a mysterious attraction for kids,” says Dr. Michael Kim, emergency-department physician at American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH). He has treated dozens of young people with burns caused by this traditional summertime activity– and not always from the most obvious situations.
He remembers treating a toddler who walked onto the hot coals of a barbecue pit in the backyard shortly after a cookout. The parents thought the coals had been put out, but the boy ended up with a second-degree burn on his foot.
“Kids younger than four years old are at higher risk for injuries caused by campfires and barbecue grills,” says Kim. “Parents with children that age must supervise, supervise, supervise to make sure accidents don’t occur.”
Kim has seen other situations where older kids became burn victims – including, for example, a teenager who got too close to a barbecue grill while starting a fire with lighter fluid.
“The explosion caused by the accelerant gave him a second-degree facial burn and singed hair,” he says. “He had to be treated in the burn unit.”
Kim says parents should educate their kids on the dangers of fire, and keep them away from materials used to make barbecue fires such as matches and lighter fluid.
Dr. Greg Rebella, also a pediatric emergency department physician at AFCH, says all burned materials should be doused with water, sand or dirt so they are cool to touch and will not burn skin.
“Never let your young child play near a fire-pit, and do not assume that coals are no longer hot, even if you do not see a flame,” he says.
Kim says age-old remedies, such as applying butter, will not help a burn.
“Run cool water over the injured area and cover with a clean dry sheet,” he says. “Do not put anything else on the burn. If the burn involves the face, head, hands, feet, or genitals and/or the child is in severe pain, call 9-1-1. When in doubt, call your doctor for advice or go to the hospital for an evaluation.”
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