February 11, 2019

The dangers of glass fireplace doors

A fireplace

Madison, Wis. — A cozy fire at this time of year poses a little-known safety threat for children, especially toddlers learning to walk.

University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics has issued a warning for parents and child care providers because of the increasing number of burns from children touching glass fireplace doors.

“Glass fireplace doors are a potential source of injury that many people don’t know about,” says UW Health burn surgeon Dr. Lee Faucher.

Faucher says UW Health burn treatment specialists see six to eight cases a year of children burning their hands, fingers, arms, legs or other parts of the body on glass fireplace doors. Most burns are to the palms of the hands.

Dr. Faucher says most of the victims are 11 to 14 months old - kids learning to walk, but unsure on their feet. Faucher says the problem could be even more widespread because parents of the injured children may not seek treatment in a certified burn unit such as UW Hospital’s. The unit also provides burn care for American Family Children’s Hospital.

According to the American Burn Association, most of the injuries occur in one of three ways: kids losing their balance as they learn to walk; youngsters walking too close to the glass doors; or touching the glass out of curiosity.

Glass on gas fireplaces can get particularly hot. The Madison-area Safe Kids Coalition says glass on a gas fireplace can heat to 400 degrees in six minutes and take 45 minutes to completely cool down. For comparison, Dr. Faucher says water heated to 157 degrees can burn skin all the way through in just one second. He says most of the cases are not the most serious third-degree burns, but points out that even second-degree burns may take two weeks of dressing care and require skin grafts.

Dr. Faucher recommends parents invest in fireplace screens or other protective barriers. Fireplace screens cost as little as $25. He says parents should also consistently teach small children to avoid fireplaces.

The burn unit is part of the Level I Trauma facility at UW Hospital and Clinics. After a rigorous exam process, the trauma center was certified by the American College of Surgeons as a Level I facility, one of only two Level I hospitals in Wisconsin.