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Keeping Children Safe Around Fireplaces

FireplaceMADISON - Glass-fronted fireplaces, particularly gas fireplaces, dispel many of the safety hazards of traditional fireplaces. The flame is enclosed behind a glass encasement and there's no worry about stray embers leaping from the fireplace to set the carpet or an article of furniture ablaze. The threat of fire, for the most part, is contained to the setting where the fire is supposed to be - namely, in the fireplace.
 
These safety measures, however, can obscure a serious element of danger for glass-fronted fireplace owners who have small children - the threat of severe burns.
 
Every year, the physicians and staff at UW Hospital's Burn Center treat between 15 and 20 toddlers with moderate to severe burns resulting from touching the hot glass front of a domestic fireplace. According to the Madison-area SAFE KIDS Coalition, an organization devoted to the prevention of common childhood injuries, the glass barrier on a fireplace can heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit in six minutes and take 45 minutes to completely cool down.
 
"It's almost always the initial walkers - between 10 months and 15 months of age," says Lee Faucher, MD, a surgeon at UW Hospital who serves as head of the Burn Center. "And the injury is almost always to the palms."
 
While children who are just beginning to walk are strong enough to propel themselves across the room and can reach out with their hands to steady themselves, their muscles haven't developed enough to save them from the serious burn that can result from touching a glass-fronted fireplace.
 
Older children and adults immediately recoil when they brush up against a hot surface. Younger children often can't.
 
"Toddlers aren't developed enough to push themselves away when they realize the fireplace glass is hot," explains Dr. Faucher. "Many times, parents hear their child screaming, and their child is still standing there with their hands on the fireplace when they rush into the room."
 
For families with small children who live in homes with glass-front fireplaces, Dr. Faucher suggests one simple remedy: A protective fireplace screen, available at many home and hardware stores for as little as $40.
 
"Most burns are preventable, including fireplace burns," says Faucher. "Either do not use your gas fireplace or purchase a protective screen to put in front of it."
 
Failure to do may mean a trip to the emergency room. Most of the burns Dr. Faucher and his staff treats aren't severe third-degree burns, but even second-degree burns require medical treatment and dressing care that can often take two weeks, not to mention of the intense initial pain. And the worst burns, says Dr. Faucher, may require skin grafts, where doctors remove a portion of skin from another part of the patient's body and use it to cover the burn region.
 
To avoid such an occurrence, Dr. Faucher suggests approaching fireplace safety the way many people approach car safety - always practice consistent, sound habits to steer clear of that one situation that could be dire.
 
"You don't get in a car accident every day, but you still put your toddler in a car seat and safety belt whenever you're in a car," he says. "Parents need to equate their fireplace with that same type of safety."

Date Published: 06/15/2007


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