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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Child safety: Prevent burns

Special to

Babies and toddlers find out about the world through their sense of touch. One of the first things they learn is that some things can be painfully hot. Many items, such as stoves and radiators, are cool at some times and hot at others — which complicates the lesson.

And then there's fire. It dances and flickers so enticingly. Surely something so pretty can't be harmful. And it can be created, like magic, with matches and lighters.

Each year, thousands of house fires are caused by children playing with matches or lighters. Even worse, instead of escaping the house, many young children tend to hide under a bed or in a closet during house fires — especially fires they've started.

But there are ways to protect your children from fires and burns. Keeping one step ahead of their natural curiosity is the key to success.

Household hazards

Many ordinary things in your home — bath water, electrical outlets, even some food — can burn your child. Follow these tips to keep your little ones safer.

* Reduce water temperature. Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120 F or lower. Generally, a child's bath water should be no hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't let children play with the water faucets. They may turn on the hot water and scald themselves.
* Avoid hot spills. Don't drink or carry hot beverages or soup while holding a child. Turn the handles of your pots and pans inward on the stove. Avoid using a tablecloth with toddlers around. If they pull the tablecloth, hot or heavy items could fall on them.
* Establish a 'No Zone.' The area in front of your stove can become a kid-free zone, marked with yellow tape or a piece of bright carpet. Also, don't store cookies near the stove, to reduce the risk of children climbing onto the stove to get a treat.
* Unplug irons. Items designed to get hot, such as curling irons and clothes irons, should be unplugged when not in use. Keep the cords out of children's reach.
* Test food temperature. Microwaves have a tendency to heat things unevenly. For example, the jelly inside a doughnut can be scalding while the pastry is only warm. Liquids heated in a microwave may be much hotter than their containers. Sample microwaved food to make sure it's not too hot before giving it to your children.
* Screen heat sources. Place safety screens around fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters, radiators and baseboard heaters.
* Cool mist vs. steam. Choose a cool-mist humidifier instead of a steam vaporizer. The steam from the vaporizer can burn a child if he or she gets too close.
* Childproof outlets. Place plastic plugs in electrical outlets to prevent children from inserting metal objects such as forks or keys, which can result in electrical burns.

Outdoor hazards

* Watch barbecue grills. Never leave a grill unattended when children are near.
* Check metal slides. Metal playground equipment, especially slides, can become hot enough to cause burns. Very young children are most at risk because they typically don't pull away from hot surfaces as quickly as older children do.
* Feel car seats. Before you place a child in a car seat, check the temperature of the seat. Hot straps or buckles can cause burns. If you park in direct sunlight, cover the car seat with a towel or blanket.
* Forgo fireworks. Firecrackers, rockets and sparklers cause most of the injuries associated with fireworks and children. A sparkler burns at more than 1,000 F. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to leave them to the trained professionals.

Playing with fire

Children have a natural curiosity about fire. By the age of 12, half of all children have played with fire. Child-play home fires tend to begin in bedrooms where children are left without supervision. Nearly a third of the fires that kill children start when children play with fire. Follow these tips to protect your children from their own curiosity:

* Lock away matches and lighters. Store matches and lighters out of sight and out of reach, preferably in a locked cabinet or drawer. Because wooden "strike-anywhere" matches are so easy to light, avoid keeping them in your home. Use book matches instead.
* Lighters aren't toys. Never use a lighter as a toy to amuse a child. Instruct young children not to touch any matches or lighters that they find, but to quickly tell an adult.
* Teach fire safety. Older children should be taught how to use matches safely. In many cases, a child's curiosity is satisfied if he or she is entrusted to use matches in appropriate situations. Children must promise to use fire only in the presence of a parent.
* Seek burned matches. Check under beds and in closets for burned matches, evidence that your child is playing with fire. Some children who start fires have a history of fire setting. Many fire departments offer counseling programs for children who set fires.

Prevent home fires

Fires and burns cause more than 4,000 deaths and more than 50,000 hospitalizations every year. More than half of all fatal fires occur in the home. Children under the age of 6 are more than twice as likely to die in a fire as the rest of the population.

All sorts of things can cause residential fires — everything from cigarettes and candles to space heaters and wood stoves. Prevent home fires by taking the following steps:

* Be careful with cigarettes. Residential fires caused by cigarettes are the leading cause of fire-related death. Quitting smoking can protect both your health and your home. Until you quit, use deep ashtrays and flood cigarette ashes with water before putting them in the trash. Both for the sake of safety and health, never smoke inside your home or car, and especially not in bed.
* Supervise young children. In addition to possibly playing with fire, unattended children can accidentally start fires by attempting to cook or by using a heater or electrical appliance in the wrong way.
* Use space heaters with care. Keep the heater at least three feet away from bedding, drapes, furniture, or other flammable materials. Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or leave the room. Be aware that fuel-burning space heaters can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
* Enjoy candles cautiously. Before you leave a room where candles are burning, make sure you extinguish them completely, and don't leave a candle burning when you fall asleep. Use sturdy candleholders on uncluttered surfaces in places where children or pets can't knock them over.

Check smoke alarms

About 90 percent of U.S. households have smoke alarms installed. In about 20 percent of those households, the alarms are out of order — primarily because of dead or missing batteries. For safety's sake, change the batteries in your smoke detectors at least once a year. Pick a special date, such as your birthday or the night you set your clocks back in the fall.

One smoke detector is not enough for your whole house. You should have at least one smoke detector per level of your home, preferably installed near bedrooms since most fatal fires occur when the household is asleep. Children can help test the smoke detectors once a month. This helps them become familiar with the sound the alarm makes.

Devise an escape plan

Waking up in the middle of the night to a house full of thick, black smoke would disorient anyone. You may be blinded, unable to find your way without visual clues. That's why it's so important to develop an escape plan and to have fire drills.

* Draw a floor plan. Every member of your family needs to know at least two exits, including windows, from every room in your house. Someone should be assigned to assist family members with mobility limitations, such as grandparents or infants.
* Keep low. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees Fahrenheit at floor level and 600 F at eye level. This heat can scorch your lungs and melt your clothes to your body. Smoke contains deadly fumes. Never stand up during a fire. Crawl on the floor, under the smoke.
* Choose a meeting site. Agree on an outside meeting site where everyone can gather after they escape. Get out first, then call 911 from a neighbor's home. Never go back into a burning building.
* Practice, practice, practice. Once everyone feels comfortable with the escape plan, hold fire drills at least twice a year. Holding fire drills at night, when the children are asleep, may be especially beneficial. It's OK to warn children about night fire drills. The objective is to practice, not frighten.

You can do it

Fire can blaze a trail of damage, destruction and death. Protecting your family against this voracious monster may seem daunting. But a plan of prevention and preparedness can help keep you and your children safe from harm.

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February 14, 2005

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