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A Burning Issue

By: Risa Caldoza-De Leon, MD, FPAMS, FPAPSHPI, AFPAMSA Burning Issue

A tradition of warmth and sensory pageantry – that’s what the holidays are all about! They’re held in a special place (your home), with a special group of people (your family and friends) gathered round, with a shimmering tree behind you and a ceremonial meal in the table. You could almost hear those lovely familiar tinkling Christmas carols, smell those sweet candles, and taste the mouth-watering Noche Buena feast. But embedded in the holiday glitz and glamour is the potential for accidents and injuries especially fire ­– and your little kids are at the biggest risk.

Our local Bureau of Fire Protection lamented that from 2013 to 2017, we had an average of 42 fire incidents a day, damaging P23 billion worth in property, injuring 4,000 people, and killing more than 1,000 people. The top three culprits of fires are electrical connection, lighted cigarette butts, and open flame mostly in residential areas. Fire incidents are more prevalent in Metro Manila compared to other regions and the sad part is, these fire-related numbers could have been avoided if only people were more cautious.

Now you’re cooking!

Preparing the feast in the kitchen can take long hours of slaving over the stove. According to the US Fire Administration, cooking tops the causes of holiday fires. Head off holiday mishaps with these tips:

  • Never leave a burner/stove unattended. Set a timer at five-minute intervals to remind you to check your stovetop.
  • Clean and maintain stove and countertops, oven interiors, and vents. 
  • Designate at least 3 square feet around the stovetop and oven into which kids are banned to enter. 
  • Don’t use gasoline- or charcoal-burning devices inside your home like generators or grills.
  • Install a smoke alarm in your home and test them monthly. Also replace their batteries twice a year.

Not light stuff

Twinkling lights and candles make the holidays, well, twinkle. Yet, lighting up candles as part of your décor more than doubles the risk of fire. The US National Fire Protection Association reports that 50 percent more candle fires occur in December. Protect your home with these tips:

  • Put out candles when you leave the room.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn such as trees and curtains. Also keep them away from children, pets, and walkways.  
  • Put candles on durable bases or cover with hurricane globes.
  • When buying Christmas lights, make sure they pass the standards set by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). 
  • Before putting them up electric lights and electrified decorations, check for frayed cords, worn plugs, and unsafe connections.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Do not run cords under carpets, rugs, furniture, or out a window.
  • Use the more energy-efficient LED lights when decorating because they do not produce heat.
  • When hanging lights outside, avoid using nails or staples, which can damage wiring and cause a fire.

Pyrotechnics is the leading cause of fire especially in welcoming New Year. According to our Department of Health (DOH), the piccolo remains the top cause of injuries. President Duterte, with his Executive Order 28, has banned private citizens from using firecrackers or staging their own firecracker displays at their homes. Let’s just toot our horns instead!

First aid for burns

Learning how to provide early treatment for children who are burnt is very important. The first few minutes after a burn can make a big difference in how severe the damage can be. Burns result from scalding from hot, boiling liquids, chemical burns, electrical burns, to fires, including flames from matches, candles, and lighters.

First degree or superficial burns involve only the top layer of the skin (e.g. sunburn). The skin is red and painful to touch and there may be mild swelling. They usually heal within 7 to 10 days without scarring. Things to do are:

  • Apply cool, wet compresses or submerge in cool, fresh water. Continue until the pain subsides.
  • Use a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth to cover the burn.  
  • Do not use home remedies like butter – these are ineffective!
  • Over-the-counter pain medications and ointments may be used to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Ointments containing calamine, zinc oxide, menthol, and lanolin may soothe discomfort and protect the skin. They act as a moisture barrier to keep skin clean and dry and help stimulate nerve endings. They aid in maintaining a healthy moisture balance for the skin. They also promote and assist in wound healing and tissue repair.

Second-degree burns affect the first two layers of the skin. There is pain, deep reddening, blisters, glossy appearance from leaking fluid and possible loss of some skin. Seek medical care immediately.

  • Submerge in fresh, cool water or put cool compresses. Continue for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Wipe with clean cloth and cover with sterile gauze.
  • Do not break blisters.
  • Elevate burned arms or legs.
  • Prevent shock by laying victim flat, elevating feet about 12 inches, and covering with a coat or blanket.
  • Medical treatment is required. Seek help ASAP.

Third-degree burns penetrate the entire thickness of the skin and destroy tissue permanently. This is often painless and there is loss of skin layers. This is an emergency that needs immediate medical help. These wounds heal with severe scarring and contracture without surgery.

  • ‘Stop, Drop, and Roll’ to smother flames.
  • Remove all burned clothing – cut or tear around the burned area if clothing clings to the skin.
  • Remove all accessories and tight clothing from the burned areas and around the victim’s neck. This is very important; burned areas swell immediately.
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