August 2, 2011

Recent Fires at Hotels and Concerts Prove That You Must Think About Fire Safety Ahead of Time


Do you know how easy it is to risk your life in a public place? Well, if you don't think about what you will do in case of fire when you are in a public place, then it is very easy to risk your life.

The stories below provide perfect examples of how close you can come to being killed by third-degree burns or smoke inhalation in just a few minutes.

On July 11, at least two people were transported to local hospitals for smoke inhalation following a four-alarm fire that struck a Days Inn hotel just outside Baltimore, MD. According to a Baltimore County Fire Department spokesperson, the fire was initially reported at 8:14 p.m. But guests who had been staying at the hotel say that fire alarms had gone off as much as an hour earlier--many people did not know there was a true emergency until they encountered heavy smoke filling the hallways.

"We heard the fire alarm go off, then stop, and go off again," said one guest who was checked into a third-floor room. "We called the front desk and they said it was nothing, just somebody playing with the fire alarm. Then the TV power went out and we started to smell smoke." In fact, the smoke spread so quickly that "some people coming down the stairs from the upper floors had trouble breathing," said the guest.

Another guest said that "I was on my way out of the room when the TV cut out. Then I noticed that the elevator wasn't working. When I came out to the lobby, there was a lot of smoke."

"The fire alarms went off, then it stopped," said another guest. "About an hour later, that's when we saw the smoke. And when I came out, I couldn't see, there was so much smoke. I couldn't even breathe." The cause and extent of the fire were not yet known.

Also on July 11, three people received treatment for smoke inhalation while Milwaukee fire crews had to rescue two other people during a fire at a hotel in that city. The fire happened just before midnight at the American Inn. Witnesses say that at least two people jumped from an upper level. The fire came from a ground-level room of the extended stay motel. "I was sleeping, and someone started beating on my door," said one guest on the second floor. "There was a lot of flames, a lot of smoke. We couldn't see anything so I got the towel in my hand, gave it to my wife to put over her nose and mouth." The Red Cross was helping people who the hotel was serving. Milwaukee Police say that electrical problems caused the fire.

Lastly, on July 8 in Dallas, a concert by popular singer Rihanna was cut short and the arena was evacuated after a fire broke out above the stage. Some witnesses say a light on the stage caught fire during her show. Dallas fire department officials said that calls came in saying the curtains and part of the stage decorations caught fire. But according to others who attended the concert, it appeared the fire started from pyrotechnics that were part of the show.

But here is the scary part: The arena did not call for an immediate evacuation, so some people rushed the exits and caused a dangerous backup.

Whenever you are in a hotel, an arena, or some other public place, please take just a moment to locate the fire exits. This way, if you see or smell smoke or fire, or hear an alarm, or if someone else yells 'fire,' you can get to an exit within seconds. It could be the difference between life and death. Here is an excellent guide for what to do to prepare for fire in a public place: The Seattle Fire Department Fire Prevention Division's handbook.

July 28, 2011

Do Your Children Know How to Avoid Severe Burns When Away from Home?

In San Jose, CA in late June, a five-alarm fire roared through a college fraternity house. One student said he awoke around 3 a.m. to screams and chaos: "I heard people screaming that there was smoke in the house and to get out," he said. "Everyone was screaming--we went to all the rooms, knocking on doors" before getting out of the house.

Another student had just bought new furniture in anticipation of spending his summer at the house. His room, along with others on the second floor of the house, was destroyed in the fire. In fact, the blaze displaced 28 people and caused an estimated $1.7 million in damage, but everyone who lived there did emerge safely because of the shouts and warnings from other occupants.

The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the 28 people who were displaced. San Jose State University set up a relief fund for the displaced students and those interested in donating to the fund can do so at www.sjsu.edu/advancement/giving.

The fraternity house, owned by university alumni, might have caught fire because of a situation in the laundry room--it could have been an electrical wire or a fuse-box problem, or even something as simple as the lint trap in the clothes dryer becoming too full and then overheating. Full lint traps are common causes of house fires.

The lesson from this story is that even when kids are properly taught fire safety at home, once they go to college or into an apartment of their own, there are outside factors that they have to think about when it comes to staying safe from fire, severe burns, and smoke inhalation. Fortunately, the kids in this fraternity house knew to go around to all the rooms and yell and bang on doors while it was still safe to do so. Then, as the fire got bigger, they knew where the exits were. This are two things all kids should be taught by their parents.

Kids need to know that a lot of things are out of your control once you go out into the world, and you have to plan ahead with things like fire safety so that you do the right things if a fire or other safety emergency ever comes up.

July 26, 2011

Everyday Activities Can Become Situations That Cause Severe Burns


In early July in upstate New York, a 48-year-old Yates County man was seriously burned when a tractor-trailer caught fire while he was fueling it. The local newspaper reported that James Moore of Dundee was flown to the Kessler Burn and Trauma Center at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester after the accident in the town of Benton. The hospital listed him in satisfactory condition hours after he was admitted, which was lucky for Moore.

Sheriff's deputies say Moore was pumping fuel into the big truck when the passenger side he was standing on caught fire. Moore suffered severe burns to his head, face, neck, chest and arms. Firefighters from two departments quickly extinguished the fire.

While the cause of the fire was not immediately determined, this incident provides a memorable lesson for everyone: Some of the most routine things we must do each day can pose a fire hazard, or cause a second-degree or even a life-threatening third-degree burn. Here are just a few examples:

--Using a charcoal or gas grill in areas that have an uneven floor, or are too small to move around easily, or which are enclosed. Also, using too much lighter fluid to start the grill.

--Leaving food unattended on a stove, even for a minute or two

--Placing clothes in a dryer without making sure the lint trap is cleaned out

--Not checking the temperature of faucet or bath water before you allow a child near the water

--Leaving kids in a car for any length of time during a hot day while you run into a store

--Allowing children to run barefoot on pavement or even beach sand on a summer day

--Pumping gas into your car while smoking (or simply being too rough with the fuel nozzle, which can cause a spark and ignite the gas fumes too)

--Smoking a cigarette during dry times of the year; even a small ember can ignite a fast-moving grass or leaf fire that can spread to nearby buildings

These are just a few of many, many possibilities we face in everyday life where a fire can occur. But if you give just a little thought before you do anything involving a fire or heat source, you will greatly lessen the chances of getting burned, or of anyone around you getting burned or suffering smoke inhalation.

July 22, 2011

Summer Grilling and Cookouts Can Result in Severe Burns

On July 11, dozens of residents of Quincy, Massachusetts were driven out of their apartment complex and one firefighter was injured in a Saturday night fire that officials say was ignited by an illegal patio grill.

The fast-moving fire began at about 9:30 p.m. It quickly spread from the second-floor patio to the building's third floor, which was completely destroyed by the flames. What's more, the first and second floors suffered severe water and smoke damage.

The next morning, firefighters were still dousing embers at a building that once contained 12 apartments. None of the people living in this building at the Faxon Park Apartment Complex were injured, but all have been displaced. The Red Cross is assisting them with temporary shelter.

Now, the lesson here is one you might not want to hear--especially in summertime when the desire to be outside and cook good food in the warm summer air is very tempting. But many precautions need to be taken whenever you are grilling over a charcoal fire or a propane-fueled fire, in order to avoid someone getting second- or even life-threatening third-degree burns.

First, the space needs to be large enough to allow for the grill and the person cooking to not be dangerously close to other people, or to the edges of the patio. A grill can be easily tipped over, and that would probably result in someone getting burned, either by charcoals or by propane gas that escapes from a ruptured tank--and those tanks do rupture more easily than you might think..

Next, there needs to be a fire extinguisher or a large bucket of water or a large wet towel nearby, in case of the fire gets out of hand and needs to be snuffed out quickly.

Just a little bit of precaution can make an afternoon or evening of using the grill for a cookout much safer for everyone who is enjoying the outdoors. And remember that grills are only for the outdoors--never use a grill indoors, as the smoke is very dangerous in enclosed spaces!

July 19, 2011

Know Your Sunscreen and Sunblock Products to Avoid Burns


Sunscreens are chemicals that are designed to be absorbed by the skin in order to form a sun barrier so you do not get first-degree or even second-degree burns (blisters). Many of the chemicals have been broken down into tiny particles so that they can be sprayed or absorbed more easily. There is clear evidence that they prevent sunburn, but there is very little known about the safety of these chemicals and their effectiveness in reducing skin cancer from sun exposure. There are also studies whose statistical evidence shows that in some cases these chemicals may actually increase your risk of cancer. There are three primary concerns with the chemicals in sunscreen:

1) They are free-radical generators which breakdown the DNA in cells and potentially make them more prone to cancer.

2) They often have strong estrogenic effects, meaning the chemicals could actually interfere with normal sexual development.

3) They are synthetic chemicals that get stored in the fat cells of the body and accumulate over time. When you apply sunscreen, you are putting these chemicals directly into your system.

On the other hand, sunblocks are products whose ingredients are primarily designed to sit on top of the skin and form an external barrier to block the rays of the sun. However, they may include many of the same chemicals as sunscreen.

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Tips for Buying Safer Sun Protection:

1) Be aware that any product labeled as sunscreen contains chemicals.

2) Avoid products with the following chemicals:

-Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)
-PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)
-Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)
-Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)
-Digalloyl trioleate
-Menthyl anthranilate
-Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789] - This is the only chemical sunscreen currently allowed by the European Community. However, its safety is still questionable since it easily penetrates the skin and is a strong free-radical generator.

3) Avoid mists and sprays. Most of the chemical ingredients in these products have been broken down into tiny nano-particles, which are more dangerous internally, and may cause risk to lungs when inhaled as well.

4) Check out the research on the brands you are considering by going to the Environmental Working Groups Sunscreen Guide. The EWG's Sunscreen Guide ranks the safety of more than 1,700 sunscreens, SPF lip balms, moisturizers and makeup. It also lets you know what kind and quantity of information is available about a given product.

5) Buy mineral sunblock whose active ingredient is zinc and/or titanium dioxide.
By definition, sunblock is meant to stay on top of the skin and block the sun's rays. It is not designed for total absorption. A good brand is Coola, which is also all natural and contains many organic ingredients as well.

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Remember this: Sunscreen isn't necessarily better because it is more expensive. In fact, some of the highest-rated sunscreens are actually the store brands.

Consumer Reports tested 22 different sprays, lotions and creams. The top three on the list were Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30 (spray), No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E SPF 45 (lotion), and Equate Baby SPF 50 (lotion). These provided "excellent" UVB protection and "very good" protection against UVA radiation, which can cause tanning and aging of the skin.

An article in the Dermatology Times implied that the difference between a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 vs. 100 is very small, since the SPF 50 product already blocks 98% of UVB radiation from sunlight. The SPF 55 and higher formulas, however, do include Helioplex - an additive that stabilizes UVA-screening avobenzone, allowing this product to protect the skin for longer periods.

Perhaps one of the more important points about choosing a sunscreen is to find one that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. This actually sits on top of the skin forming a barrier against the sun's rays. One pediatric dermatologist we talked to says that sunscreens made with these ingredients work as a sun block and start protecting as soon as you put them on.

An Australian study also finds by using sunscreen daily you can reduce the chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by half.

If you still want specific sunscreen or lotion, check out this list from Consumer Research.

* Best Sunscreen: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 30
* Best Cheap Sunscreen: No-Ad Sunblock Lotion SPF 45
* Baby Sunscreen: Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+
* Sport-formula Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sport Performance Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 100
* Natural Sunscreen: Badger SPF 30 for Face & Body

Remember that spray lotion is much easier to put on, but it doesn't necessarily protect as well as the rub-on sunblock. The spray tends to be thinner, so you must reapply it more frequently. Do not forget to apply to the lips and ears too.

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Here are some other suggestions on staying safe from the sun:

* Check the expiration date. Sunscreen that is expired or old may not be as effective as it once was.
* Do not rely on sunscreen alone. Wear protective clothing and limit time in the sun.
* Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
* Use enough. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of a lotion on most of your body, or spray as much as can be evenly rubbed in and then go back and spray completely again.

July 14, 2011

Learn About Skin Protection to Avoid Sunburns This Summer

A recent article from the Associated Press addressed exactly the type of information we want to provide to you each week in this blog. Here is a summary:

About a third of adults get sunburns each year, and most of those people actually get more than one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a bigger problem than pain, because sunburns are believed to increase risk of the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma. There aren't good figures on how often children get sunburned, but their tender skin can burn especially easily.

While water and sand reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays and make sunburns worse, it's not just the beachgoer who's at risk. A sunburn can hit anyone--from kids playing ball to their parents watching, to the person who does gardening in the backyard.

First-degree sunburns tend to peel in a few days. But more severe second-degree burns can blister and even require a doctor's care, especially if they cover large areas or come with fever and chills. A bad sunburn hinders how well your body cools itself, so it's important to keep hydrated with plenty of water.

To self-treat the pain, take ibuprofen or similar over-the-counter painkillers known as NSAIDs within a few hours of reddening skin. Those pills fight various kinds of inflammation. But DO NOT use those pills before going in the sun; they're among a host of medicines that can make your skin more sun-sensitive!

Cool compresses can soothe a sunburn, and some patients find relief from aloe. But you don't want to put heavy ointments on, because they can trap heat in the skin.

Anesthetic sprays can numb the area, and for more serious burns a hydrocortisone cream might work well.

But to avoid getting a sunburn in the first place, take these precautions:

- Stay out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

- Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing with long sleeves and seek shade from umbrellas. At a recent dermatologists' convention, beachgoers wore long-sleeved swim cover-ups and big hats--that is a big hint for the rest of us.

- Don't forget the sunblock or sunscreen, especially on the face, hands and arms that are exposed to sun just about every day.

In my next blog post on Tuesday, July 19, I will write about the difference between sunbliock and sunscreen, and which might be best for you and your family to avoid severe sunburns.

July 12, 2011

Even After July 4th, Fireworks Are Around and Can Cause Severe Burns

Last week in a town in Indiana, a mother took her small children to a local shopping mall parking lot to watch a few different individuals set off fireworks. This was not an approved event by the shopping mall owner or the local authorities, but we all know that such things happen all the time in towns across the country, and many of us go to watch these events even though they are neither professionally run nor legally allowed.

The problem is, these non-professionals who are setting off fireworks almost never take the proper precautions to ensure that spectators do not get burned. So when one of the people setting off fireworks in that Indiana town last week accidentally kicked over a mortar while he lit the fuse, all he could do was watch as the rocket took off sideways and right into a crowd of spectators.

The result was first-degree burns on the shoulders, neck, and head for one 3-year-old girl. The mother explained that her daughter, along with four of the toddler's cousins, were sitting on two blankets in the parking lot, along with many other people watching both the legal fireworks being launched at the nearby La Porte County Fairgrounds and the illegal ones being lit in the parking lot.

The mother said the children were holding another blanket above them and pretending it was a parachute when the mortar flew between the two blankets and exploded. She said the blanket on the ground caught fire, and with the help of other relatives, she pulled the children off the blankets, which had large holes burned completely through in the middle.

What's more, the woman's 5-year-old niece sustained second-degree burns to a small area on her chest, while the mortar hit her 4-year old nephew in the face. The boy wound up with first-degree burns to his face, chest and leg.

And according to police, a 2-year-old had burn marks on the back of his shorts, while an 11-year-old had a hole in her long denim dress too.

The lesson from this incident? Because fireworks shows happen all summer long, not just on July 4th, adults should take precautions when watching fireworks shows, like staying far away from where the fireworks are bring blown off, and perhaps even carry water in large containers just in case a fire starts around the spectators. If you do this, you will then have plenty of drinking water for a hot summer night once the fireworks are over.

We must also make sure that we inform our children of the possibility of severe burns that come from fireworks, for the times that we are not with them to keep them out of harm's way. We must give them the right instruction so that the keep themselves out of danger.

July 7, 2011

Kitchen Fires Are Too Common, and Very Dangerous

In my blog post of July 5, I wrote about a restaurant fire that was caused by careless preparation by a waiter of a dessert that uses fire for visual effect. The result was two burned patrons, with one of them suffering serious third-degree burns.

But even at home, many tasks involved in cooking can be very dangerous, and you must pay attention to safety whenever you are using heat in the kitchen. Consider this: Back in late May, a man in Granby, NY, was seriously burned when he tossed meat into a hot pan. The local fire chief said that the man simply made an absent-minded decision to toss the meat into the pan from a foot or so away, and this caused a flare-up of flames that engulfed him. The man was rushed to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse with second- and third-degree burns to his face, hands, arms and back.

Then in mid-June, a Las Vegas woman was treated for smoke inhalation and a firefighter suffered a minor injury during a kitchen fire that caused $75,000 in damage. Firefighters responded to a townhouse complex to fight this fire, which started after the woman put a pan of cooking oil on the stove top to heat up, but then got distracted by a phone call.

After the smoke alarms alerted her to the fire, the woman saw that the flames had risen up to the fan above the stove--and into the air ducts. The duct work for the stove's exhaust fan ran into the ceiling, then into a wall between two downstairs condos, and across the length of the building to an outside vent. The fire spread almost instantly through those ducts because they gave fresh oxygen to the fire, which is bad.

The woman was able to warn neighbors and call 911. But smoke and flames ran through the ducts and set the wood on fire in the space between the upstairs and downstairs units, causing damage to three additional units, officials said. The two downstairs units sustained heavy fire and smoke damage, estimated at $30,000 for each unit. An upstairs unit sustained about $5,000 in damage and another unit incurred $10,000 in damage. Nine people were displaced from their apartments. And the woman had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

With kitchen fires, many people don't know how to properly extinguish them. Grease fires are actually spread and made larger by water. So the correct way to stop such fires is with a fire extinguisher containing foam or another non-water chemical, or with a damp rag placed over the fire to starve it of oxygen.

Also, many people underestimate how quickly smoke can build up and injure or kill them right in their kitchen. If a fire becomes larger than the pan it started in, it is safest to leave the room, get out of the house, dial 911, and alert the neighbors about the fire.

Lastly, it is critical to keep kids out of the kitchen when cooking. The reason: Kids are curious. They move around quickly and unpredictably, and sometimes they even think to pull on a pot handle while it is on the stove. So if you want to make sure that a child does not get severely burned or start a fire, keep them out of the kitchen while you cook!

July 5, 2011

Patrons Can Suffer Severe Burns at Restaurants

In early June, four diners were burned at a Palm Harbor, Florida restaurant, after a waiter accidentally added too much rum to the bananas foster dish he prepared at the table. Two people were flown to Tampa General Hospital Regional Burn Center for treatment of severe burns.

Employees were quick to grab fire extinguishers and help a woman whose dress caught on fire, resulting in second- and third-degree burns. "It's going to be a long time for her to heal," said a fire department spokesperson.

Bananas foster is typically prepared with bananas, butter, cinnamon and sugar in a pan or skillet. Then, rum is added and the dessert is lit on fire to reduce some of the alcoholic content, and also for visual effect.

But as the restaurant server poured the liquor into the pan at the dining table, a sudden burst of flames erupted. Caught in the blaze was the woman, a 25-year-old school teacher whose fiance's parents invited her to dinner. In this case, the fire spread quickly. Flaming rum splashed across plates and onto skin, igniting the woman's dress and sending horrified shrieks through the dining room.

One chef (and an aspiring firefighter, fortunately) raced from the kitchen, tore off the woman's burning dress and stomped out the flames. With other people, he guided the woman to a couch in the lobby and covered her with a blanket as another woman frantically called 911.

Later that night, as the woman was treated at the burn center, questions remained about whether the restaurant could have done anything to prevent the fire.

"That's not a freak accident," said a chef at another local eatery. "That's a lack of training. And using 151-proof rum is a poor management decision."

But the restaurant's owner called the fire "a terrible accident," adding that her "main concern is for the well-being of that young lady and everyone who was hurt."

The employee who helped the burning woman was working in the kitchen, prepping dishes for the dining room, when he saw the flames and ran to the table. An employee for more than three years, he also spent six months last year in the fire academy at a nearby college. When he saw the fire, he said he went into what he called "EMT training mode." "I was focused on removing her from the fire. It was all a blur from there," he said.

One family member said the next day that "this is a very traumatic time for us. It's been quite wearing...We're all a little bit numb."

Cooking recipes often warn the cooks to pour flammable liquor from a separate cup, instead of from the bottle. And Bacardi 151 rum bottles carry a warning label that states "Do not use this product for flaming dishes." Also, the spout features a "flame arrester" to prevent fires. In Florida, there are no local or state permitting requirements for flambeing dishes in a restaurant dining room.

Serious injuries from flaming dishes and drinks are rare but not unprecedented. A California woman in 1999 suffered third-degree burns when a server improperly prepared Cherries Jubilee tableside at a steak house. And a woman in London was seriously burned in 2005 when a flaming Portuguese sausage dish exploded after it was topped with rum. And two young girls were burned in Arizona in 2006 when alcohol in a hollowed-out "onion volcano" was ignited at a Japanese restaurant.

June 30, 2011

Burn Survivor Camps are the Best Medicine for Children with Severe Burns

A recent article in the Myrtle Beach Sun newspaper discussed a topic that is very helpful to families who have a burn survivor among them.

In Raleigh, NC, yoga instructor Blake Tedder knows how difficult it is for children with burn injuries to face the world. In 2001, Tedder was 17 when he lost 35 percent of his skin in a plane crash.

Tedder was not prepared for the stares and comments after he regained health. Because of his burns, not only did his face stay bright red for a long time, but he also had to wear pantyhose-like garment on his arms. "I felt that I looked like a mummy," said Tedder, now 26 years old. The idea of possibly not being able to play guitar or catch the eye of a girl was devastating, he added.

But at Camp Celebrate, a weekend retreat for children with burn injuries organized by the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, he started to rebuild his confidence. "It just felt good to be around those who met me before they met my burns," Tedder said.

Tedder returns to the camp this June as a counselor. The camp began when firefighters from around the state met 50 campers at Triangle Town Center and took them to the camp site outside Wake Forest University in a convoy of fire engines.

The children, between ages 7 and 15, spent the weekend fishing, canoeing and swimming with kids who know what they've been through. "Camp Celebrate is a celebration of human spirit and collaboration," said Bruce Cairns, director at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals. The love from the volunteers, firefighters, and staff at the burn center keeps the camp going year after year, Cairns said.

Deb Rosenstein, a therapist at the burn center, started the camp in 1982 because other camps hesitated to accept children who were burn survivors. A year shy of its 30th anniversary, Camp Celebrate has evolved into an after-care program, offering a wide array of services to burn survivors of different ages. Over the years many camp alumni, like Tedder, have returned.

The camp is a rebuilding experience for many of its participants, said Anita Fields, manager at the burn center's after-care program. She remembered one 14-year-old boy who vowed never to wear shorts or swim again. But at the camp he saw children jump into the water, and these children had been through the same trauma and undergone just as many, if not more, surgeries. By the end of the camp the boy wouldn't leave the water, and he even climbed an alpine tower.

As a counselor, Tedder encourages the children to be themselves, despite the scars and disfigurement. Nowadays, he hosts a radio show, plays drums and goes on dates.

It's Jon Hayes' fourth year at Camp Celebrate. The watermelon-eating contest is one of the activities that draw him back. Jon, 10 years old, had second- and third-degree burns on his chest and left arm from when he tried to retrieve a soccer ball from a grill. He said his goal is to be a camp counselor one day.

His parents, Johnny and Debbie of Ocean Isle Beach, stood in the mall parking lot to see Jon climb into a fire engine. They said they know how much he misses seeing his friends at the camp and telling each other ghost stories. "It's the ultimate camp experience," Debbie Hayes said.

The Camp Celebrate experience has given Terrell Watkins a lifelong passion for serving children with special needs. Watkins was 13 when he threw a lit match into a can filled with gasoline, thinking he was building the greatest campfire in the world. The explosion engulfed him and burned 75 percent of his skin.

Watkins survived, but the flames left deep scars all over his face, arms and legs, and destroyed his ear cartilage. The staff at the burn center invited him to the camp, where he met other children who also had scars all over their bodies.

Now 34, Watkins has been a camp counselor since 1996. He played wide receiver for Winston-Salem State University and is now a special education teacher at Cliffdale Elementary School in Fayetteville. Because of his camp experience, he wants to return to school to become a licensed clinical counselor.

"This is what I tell the kids: 'You're going to get looks from people, but you need to be comfortable in your own skin.'" And it doesn't matter whether your skin has scars or not.

June 28, 2011

Fire Safety Lesson for Parents and Kids: iPod Battery Starts Fire

Last week, I wrote a blog that covered the new fire hazards that are part of everyday life because of new technology and products being sold to the public. Well, a perfect example of this popped up this week:

On June 21, Farmington, NH high-school students trying to complete final exams were interrupted when an iPod battery exploded in a classroom. To avoid smoke inhalation, the classroom was evacuated and the school locked down for a short period.

The local TV station reported that a 16-year-old boy was responsible for the situation, because he repeatedly bent his iPod music player, which caused it to malfunction. The boy bent the iPod so many times that the gadget's plastic casing broke open, but he continued to flex the broken case anyway. Soon thereafter, this caused the lithium-ion battery to emit smoke and sparks. The boy dropped the iPod on the classroom's tile floor and poured water on the device to put out the fire.

Ambulances from surrounding towns had to be called to the school, which has about 430 students. About 20 students were in the affected classroom at the time of the fire. Because the iPod let off some smoke, these kids were examined for any signs of smoke inhalation. "That number is more than we can handle, so we called in aid from three other towns' ambulance services to help us assess all the patients," said the local fire chief.

As a precaution, two students were taken to area hospitals; both are expected to be fine. Superintendent Frank Mellaci said that within an hour of the air quality check, the school was allowed to reopen.

Many people are not aware that these types of batteries, while small, can be dangerous. "If you breach the battery, they can cause an explosion that can cause a significant amount of fire" and severe burns, said the local fire chief. Click here to read another story about a child being burned by an iPod, and the lawsuit the child's family filed against the company.

School officials are still taking statements and have yet to determine if any disciplinary action should be taken against the student with the iPod.

The lesson here for parents and kids alike is this: The new gadgets that come out every few months have pieces inside them that can be dangerous. It is up to both parents and kids to understand the new products they buy--and to make sure they know how to keep them safe from overheating, fire, or explosion.

June 27, 2011

Amniotic Membrane and Third Degree Burns

The amniotic membrane is a thin membrane that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. The amniotic membrane can be used as a temporary coverage for burn wounds such as second and third degree burns. It can be used for both superficial and deep burn wounds as well as after dermoabrasion and in donor region. It can be obtained from the placenta. The pregnant has to be free from STDs and other diseases. The smell and the color of the placenta should be normal. As the number of patients surviving the burn injury is increasing due to the improved management of burn injuries, the use of biological dressing including the amniotic membrane is increasing in many parts of the world.

The advantages of using amniotic membrane as coverage for burn wounds are:

  1. Decrease fluid loss from the burned surface.
  2. Its use is not associated with immunological problems or allergic reactions.
  3. Available in large size.
  4. It's available in enough quantity.
  5. The histological structure of the amniotic membrane is similar to the structure of the skin.
  6. Decreases pain and decreases the possibility of keloid or scar formation.
The disadvantage of using amniotic membrane is the difficulty for viral infection screening and therefore there is some risk of transmission of viral infections such as Hepatitis unless preservation methods can eliminate the possibility of viral contamination.

The amniotic membrane doesn't vascularize (form blood vessels), but still can provide an effective method of temporary wound closure.

The type of amniotic membrane that is used for superficial burns is different from that used for deep burns. For deep burns, the amnion (a thin sac that surrounds and protects the fetus) and Chorion (one of the membranes that exist during pregnancy between the developing fetus and mother) are used while for superficial burns the amnion alone is used. To facilitate the control of bacterial overgrowth, the amniotic membrane is treated with silver.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

June 24, 2011

Third Degree Burns and Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is the external use of water in the medical treatment of certain diseases. Most burn units in hospitals have hydrotherapy rooms. Hydrotherapy softens and removes dead tissue enabling new healthy tissue to form and promote healing.

Hydrotherapy can have other effects in addition to removing dead and damaged tissue, it can:

  • prevent the fluid loss through the burned skinwhich may result in fliuid deplesion and dehydration.
  • Remove debris and clean the wound surface.
  • Provide a good environment for wound healing.
  • Decrease the risk of infection.
  • Decrease the risk of scar tissue formation.
  • The wound has microbial flora, hydrotherapy help adjust them.
  • Help facilitate physical therapy.
  • Promote healing and the formation of healthy tissue.
  • Help provide comfort for the patient.
Hydrotherapy for burns can start within a few days of the trauma once patients have recovered from the initial shock and their condition has stabilized. Burn patients often receive daily hydrotherapy throughout their hospitalization. As the burn begins to heal, hydrotherapy may be reduced to three times per week on an outpatient basis. Hydrotherapy is administrated by nurses and specialized technicians. Sometimes physicians or physical therapists are also involved in the hydrotherapy sessions.

Immersion hydrotherapy:
Many burn units use immersion hydrotherapy on all patients, regardless of the extent of the affected body surface. Immersion hydrotherapy is performed in tubs called hydrotanks, or burn tanks; these may be equipped with lifts to ease the patient in and out. Hydrotherapy tubs must be carefully disinfected after each use, since infection of the damaged tissue is one of the most serious side effects of burns. Disposable liners are used in some burn tubs, and the water is sterilized. Hydrotherapy for burns should never be performed in a public tub because of the risk of infection.

Shower hydrotherapy:
Many burn units are replacing immersion hydrotherapy with shower hydrotherapy, because of the risk of infection from hydrotubs and because showering immediately rinses away dead skin and bacteria. Showering removes dead tissue as effectively as immersion hydrotherapy. A shower trolley or stretcher is draped with a sterilized disposable plastic sheet to reduce the risk of contamination that can cause infection. The patient lies on the sheet and receives hydrotherapy through a showerhead. Patients with less severe burns can be showered while sitting in a chair. Shower hydrotherapy utilizes tap water, but a chlorine solution is run through the showerhead to disinfect it. Handheld showerheads are recommended when performing hydrotherapy at home, since strong hospital-grade disinfectants require special handling.

The duration of hydrotherapy treatments varies greatly. Hydrotherapy for burns is often performed for just a few minutes at a time because it can be intensely painful. Pain medication is often administrated before hydrotherapy, and general anesthesia may be required before performing hydrotherapy on the most severe burn victims. In some centers water friendly virtual reality have been used during burn treatment in hydrotherapy tubs. This diverts the patient's attention away from the pain signals.

Burn patients often undergo physical therapy during hydrotherapy. The physical therapist encourages the patient to perform movements and participate in the bathing when possible.

Hydrotherapy and chemical burns:
When hydrotherapy is administrated for chemical burns, either acid or alkali, within one minute, there is far less damage to skin than if treatment is delayed for even three minute. A delay in hydrotherapy can lead to irreversible damage. Prolonged gentle rinsing of the burn with a large volume of water under low pressure dilutes the chemical, washes it out of the skin and normalizes the PH of the skin.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

June 23, 2011

Survivor Story: A Young Boy Overcomes His Severe Burns

In October 2006, Camryn Higgins suffered second- and third-degree burns to 65 percent of his body in an accidental backyard explosion at his Bastrop, Texas home. It was a Sunday morning, and he and his family was cleaning up after a seventh birthday party for Camryn the day before. His father was getting ready to light the grill for some outdoor cooking. Camryn, carrying a few chairs, also grabbed a lighter to take to his dad. But he tripped on a sidewalk and fell, and somehow the lighter emitted a spark. This ignited fumes from a nearby gas can.

"The backyard was full of smoke and I started hollering, 'Where's my baby, where's my baby?'" recalled Carl Higgins. "Finally he ran in front of me, and I noticed that he was on fire."

Emergency crews blocked traffic on a nearby highway and a medical helicopter landed to get the child to the Burn Center at Shriners Hospital for Children, in Galveston. Camryn was put on life support and doctors worried he would not survive. But several days later, the boy awoke to his astonished and deeply worried parents. Then the recovery had to begin--which included very painful baths to keep him from getting life-threatening infections.

"I remember every morning before they told me to get in the tub room, they asked: 'Do you want the pain pill or the pain popsicle?'" said Camryn, now 11 years old. "That tub room is no joke," said Camryn's father, Carl Higgins. "I don't think a grown man could sit there and go through that pain those kids went through."

"Every time it was time for him to go to the tub room, he called for prayer," remembered Camryn's mother, Katina White Higgins. "So we would call the pastor and pray early in the morning before Camryn went in."

"He would not enter that room unless we prayed; that was the only way he would go in. He would say, 'No, I'm not going in until we have prayer.' And then they had a CD that he liked, so we would put his music on and it was easier for Camryn."

"The hardest thing a parent will ever have to see is their child get scrubbed until they bleed," the mother continued. "You see that blood flowing in that tub and it's just a horrible thing. It's like pieces of your child just going down the drain and it's a horrible feeling."

The scrubbings were designed to remove the dead skin from Camryn's face, arms and torso. The medical staff at the Burn Center of the Shriners Hospital for Children rubbed hard to keep the boy's wounds from becoming infected.

But the good news is that at her moment of despair, Camryn's mom saw a therapist. "I went and spoke with the therapist and she gave me some really good advice. She said, 'Write everything down; write it all down.'" The result of that is "Camryn's Fire," a book that lays out the journey this family traveled on their way back to physical and emotional health. It was a journey that took Camryn's parents to the brink of divorce and their extended families to broken relations.

"I wanted to find out what was causing these things to happen and now I know the answer," Katina White Higgins said. "The answer is I'm being made by God to do this, and I'm going to be so much better after this is over. We were strong enough to take it and make something positive out of it, so that we can be advocates for children to be safe."

Camryn's mom is working on a new book called "I Am Different But We're All the Same." It's going to talk about a child who has been burned and who is coming back into the world with kids who are not burned. "We'll touch on how the child will look different after being burned, but the heart is the same and the love and the friendship is the same." Higgins plans to market the book in hospitals and schools to help children cope with such tragedies.

As for Camryn, here's an update: Every day, he slathers a medical cream over his scars and then does a round of push-ups. He's working out in anticipation of a summer football camp, to be followed by play on his school team in the fall. "When I grow up," he said, "I'm planning on going to University of Texas and playing football there," he said.

As for his scars: "My friend from a burn camp has her mom tell people that her burns were a tattoo from God showing his love," said Camryn. "So I really don't care what people think about how I look. I just care what I think. I think I look beautiful."

Then he smiled and struck a few body-builder poses. His parents smiled back, like people who have felt a heavy weight lifted from their hearts.

June 21, 2011

New Technology and New Products Could Mean New Fire Hazards


Engineers from General Motors and a few insurance representatives are investigating whether a Chevrolet Volt, or its charging cord or charging station, caused a fire in mid-April that destroyed a garage in England. What's more, fire officials and auto experts were surprised when the unplugged hybrid electric car began smoldering again--four days after the blaze!

Firefighters returned to the garage after being told that smoke emerged from underneath the Volt once again. The car had not been moved since its initial fire four days before, which also destroyed a second vehicle--a 1987 Suzuki Samurai that the Volt's owner had converted to electric power.

"The rekindle of the fire four days later really adds to the mystery," said the local fire official.

Fortunately, the owner of the car is a volunteer firefighter. He's had an interest in electric vehicles, and wrote on the internet how he converted the Suzuki Samurai to run on electricity. In an online electric-vehicle album, the man says his wife calls the vehicle "Sparky."

The Volt and the Suzuki had been plugged in for recharging when the first fire broke out in the homeowner's attached garage. "We still remain pretty confident that the blaze was not started by the Volt," Rob Peterson, a GM spokesman, said afterwards. He also said that GM has not had any similar problems with Volts.

General Motors has sold about 1,600 Volts since the plug-in electric hybrid car was introduced in December 2010. The Volt is considered an electric hybrid because it includes a small gas-powered motor that can be used to recharge the car's electric battery. The Volt's lithium-ion battery pack has a range of about 40 miles.

The automaker's engineers have inspected the Volt, and their findings indicate that the vehicle was damaged by the fire, but does not seem to be the cause. "While the Volt's battery pack sustained damage, it was not extensive enough or of the type that would suggest that it caused the fire," they said. "In addition, there is clear evidence based on moderate damage to the cord set and charging system that neither component caused the fire."

Even with those findings, the lesson from this incident is clear: With new technologies emerging all the time, we do not yet know all the possible dangers, including fire hazards, that can come from the products that use them. So the only way for consumers and their families to stay safe is to take precautions ahead of time so that if an unforeseen smoke or fire situation does happen, there is nothing flammable nearby to that product that would make a bad situation worse. What's more, there needs to be a fire extinguisher nearby and a clear escape route away from the garage or other area where this new product is being used or stored. Because right now, we do not know enough about these new technologies to say that smoke or fire resulting in third-degree burns or smoke inhalation injury is not possible.