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.

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.

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.

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 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.

June 16, 2011

Two Product Recalls Due to Risk of Severe Burn Injuries

Just in time for summer, a product warning goes out so that people don't get severely burned during backyard cookouts.

Here are the details: A jelly-like fuel made for ceramic firepots has been removed from store shelves this week after a pair of explosions severely injured three people in New York.

A 14-year-old Long Island boy nearly burned to death after a bottle of FireGel exploded in his backyard on May 28. Michael Hubbard of Riverhead was still hospitalized in grave condition with third-degree burns over much of his body. And on June 3, a New York City man nearly died and a friend was burned after a similar explosion.

Both accidents happened while people were trying to add fuel to pots that were already lit. Gel manufacturer Napa Home & Garden asked retailer Bed Bath & Beyond to pull the products after inquiries from The New York Times.

Napa Home & Garden says it plans to add new warning labels highlighting the danger if someone tries to refill pots that are already hot.

And here's an other product recall that few people would think about as a source of potential severe burns: Hewlett-Packard has recalled an additional 162,600 laptop batteries after reports of burns--and even smoke inhalation!

The PC maker recalled 54,000 last May, and 70,000 in May 2009 as well. The latest recall affects batteries in HP and Compaq laptops, including models from the Pavilion and Presario lines sold in 2007 and 2008.

"The recalled lithium-ion batteries can overheat and rupture, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers," the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

"Since the May 2010 recall expansion, HP has received 40 additional reports of batteries that overheated and ruptured, resulting in seven burn injuries, one smoke inhalation injury, and 36 instances of property damage," the commission added.

HP warned customers not to assume laptops given the all clear in previous years to assume their batteries are safe. "HP urges customers with notebooks listed in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 announcements to validate the battery even if they have validated it previously," it said.

You can click on the underlined company names in this article to see the burn-safety information these two companies have put on the internet.

June 14, 2011

Wherever You Are, Have an Escape Route in Case of Fire

Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, there have been two terrible incidents where people were killed or suffered third-degree burns because they did not take the time to plan an escape route from a building in the event of a fire. What's more, they did not have fire extinguishers nearby that could have saved them.

First, in Gettysburg, PA, three men suffered serious burns in a garage fire in late May. William Rexroth, Jerry Shultz and Randy Beck--all are around age 50--were in a garage working on vehicles when a fire broke out, according to Pennsylvania State Police. The garage door was closed, so it was difficult and time-consuming for them to get out, police said. They eventually broke out windows and escaped. All three suffered third-degree burns. Rexroth and Shultz were taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital and Beck was taken to the Johns Hopkins Burn Center.

Any time you are in a work area such as a garage, you must make sure that there is not only a clear escape route but also good air ventilation into the room so that if a fire does break out, you do not get overcome by smoke inhalation within seconds. Also, these men should have had a fire extinguisher nearby, as they were handling flammable liquids that were in and around the vehicles they were working on.

The second incident took place in Brockton, MA. For years, Lisa Trevains had overcome personal struggles - alternately living in a homeless shelter and sleeping in the woods -- but one Friday night in May she faced her greatest challenge. She had to dial 911 to report that she was trapped in the basement of a burning apartment building.

Hampered by heavy smoke, firefighters eventually found the 46-year-old woman's body in the basement of the building. After the fire, a state fire marshal questioned the legality of the basement apartment where Trevains was found.

The fire marshal said that defective electrical wiring caused the fire, which left nine people homeless. "It was an issue of faulty wiring in the ceiling level between the basement and the first floor," he said, adding that he did not know at the time if the building had smoke detectors.

It was also not clear if the basement of that building had received an occupancy permit. Brockton's mayor said her staff had stepped up code enforcement over the last year to end illegal basement and attic apartments.

"She was talkative, friendly; a real good person once you got to know her," said a friend of Trevains named Webber. "If you needed a cigarette or clothes or coffee money, she'd give it to you."

We'll say it again: Without having an escape route when you are in an enclosed place, and without having a fire extinguisher nearby, you are taking a life-threatening risk by ignoring basic fire safety.

June 9, 2011

A New Look at the Dangers of Smoke Inhalation

On May 19, the Fire Smoke Coalition sent out a press release saying that it "applauds the Congressional Fire Services Institute's (CFSI) National Advisory Council (NAC) passage of A Resolution to Address a New Epidemic: Smoke Inhalation at its April board meeting." CFSI is a leading non-partisan policy institute designed to educate members of Congress on the needs of our nation's fire and emergency services.

In its resolution, CFSI notes that there is mounting proof, obtained through atmospheric monitoring on fire grounds throughout the U.S., that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is a predominant toxicant found in fire smoke. The resolution calls for educating the fire service about the dangers of smoke inhalation--including those of HCN--through support of a national education program, the development of HCN poisoning treatment protocols for all local and state emergency medical services (EMS), and efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a national database of smoke inhalation injuries, medical complications and deaths linked to HCN.

To learn even more about the Fire Smoke Coalition and about HCN poisoning, click on this link.

"It's encouraging to see that both fire smoke and hydrogen cyanide poisoning are being recognized by CFSI for the serious and prevalent illnesses they are," said Rob Schnepp, assistant chief of Special Operations for the Alameda County (CA) Fire Department. "As we learn more about the dangers of fire smoke, and pass that information along to firefighters and civilians around the world, we are confident we can reduce the number of people injured and killed by smoke."

In the United States, residential fires are the third leading cause of fatal injury and the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury death, yet the majority of fire-related fatalities are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. Despite the amount of fires in the U.S. decreasing each year, the amount of civilians dying in fires is actually increasing. For example, in 2009, 1,348,500 fires were attended by public fire departments, a decrease of 7.1 percent from the year before; however, 3,010 civilian fire deaths occurred, which is an increase of 9.3 percent.

In fire smoke, hydrogen cyanide can be up to 35 times more toxic than carbon monoxide, an underappreciated risk that can cause severe injury or death within minutes. In a review of major fires over a 19-year period, cyanide was found at toxic-to-lethal levels in the blood of approximately 33 percent to 87 percent of fatalities.

The Fire Smoke Coalition will begin working with various government agencies and medical associations in an effort to reduce the number of smoke inhalation deaths by elevating awareness surrounding hydrogen cyanide as the most deadly toxicant in fire smoke, which is treatable if detected.

"As a country, if we can accept that 30,654 human beings died during a 10-year period, we've become complacent about the illness," said Shawn Longerich, executive director of the Coalition. "That's unacceptable. This resolution raises the bar for all of us to do more and we can by embracing new medical treatment protocols that include consideration for hydrogen cyanide poisoning in fire smoke."

June 7, 2011

Severe Burns and the Need for Safety Awareness At Workplaces

In late May in Gallatin, TN, three workers were critically burned in a fire at a chemical plant where a flash fire in January had already killed two workers--one of whom succumbed to his third-degree burns just one week before this latest fire.

This most recent accident injured five workers, and was the third incident this year at the Hoeganaes Corp. plant. The facility employs about 175 people making metal powders for automotive and industrial uses. The two previous accidents occurred after flammable dust accumulated in the air and combusted, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigated the flash fires and released the findings two weeks ago.

In a news release, Investigator-in-Charge Johnnie Banks criticized the company for knowing of the danger the dust posed and not adequately addressing it. When his team inspected the plant, it found 2- to 3-inch layers of dust on surfaces throughout the facility and dust was visible in the air, according to the release. Banks is leading the investigation of the latest accident to determine its cause.

Meanwhile, Hoeganaes issued a statement saying its investigation into the cause of the most recent accident "so far suggests no link to previous incidents that occurred at the plant earlier this year." Asked whether that meant the company did not believe metal dust was to blame for the fire this time, spokeswoman Marcey Wurst declined to elaborate.

Gallatin Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Dale said the most recent fire occurred in the furnace room of the plant, where 10 to 15 people work. He said it was different in nature than the fatal accident in January.

According to the CSB, the January 31 flash fire occurred as two maintenance mechanics on the overnight shift inspected a broken bucket elevator that was downstream of a furnace. When they restarted the elevator, the movement lofted combustible iron dust into the air. The dust ignited and flames engulfed the workers.

The second accident occurred on March 29 when a plant engineer was replacing igniters on a furnace and inadvertently dislodged combustible iron dust. The dust engulfed him and ignited in a fireball.

Banks said in the news release that the amount of metal dust at the factory "was of particular concern because metal dust flash fires present a greater burn injury threat than flammable gas or vapor flash fires. Metal dust fires have the potential to radiate more heat, and some metals burn at extremely high temperatures."

There was no question the company knew much of the dust was combustible, Banks found. Company documents showed that last year Hoeganaes submitted 23 dust samples from the Gallatin facility to an independent laboratory and 14 were found to be combustible.

Investigators also found that the company had documented multiple reports of flash fires during repairs on furnace belts at their facility in Cinnaminson, N.J., where Hoeganaes is headquartered. Someone was killed in a 1996 accident there and an accident in 2000 injured two others.

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this week issued $42,900 in citations to Hoeganaes after an investigation into the January and March accidents found 12 serious violations, spokesman Jeff Hentschel said. TOSHA officials went to the plant last week to open an investigation into the latest accident.

The Chemical Safety Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations. In 2006 the CSB recommended the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration develop a standard to address combustible dust explosions. In 2009, OSHA agreed and the agency is currently in the early stages of rulemaking.

The most recent blaze, which was reported to the fire department at 6:30 a.m., was described as an "industrial accident" caused by a gas cloud that ignited in a furnace room near the center of the building, he said. The workers had been repairing a small gas leak when the fire occurred.

This latest accident occurred just one day after the funeral of a man who died recently after suffering third-degree burns in a January flash fire at the industrial plant.

Said Mike Mattingly, Hoeganaes vice president of human resources: "The company is devastated; it's in mourning."

While three of their co-workers were in critical condition form the May fire, employees were seen last week gathered near a sign at the front of the plant that read, "Think: Do I have the skills, knowledge and correct tools to perform this task?" Unfortunately, this sign alone could not prevent these three accidents and the deaths they caused. But let this be a warning to others who work in industrial environments: Worker safety has to be the first priority.

Lastly, if you or someone you know has been injured at work and feels that the proper safety measures were not taken, please contact the law office of Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY so they can investigate who is liable for any injury that occurred.