In Knoxville, Tennessee last week, a fire in the middle of the night from a fireplace that was not properly monitored cause severe burns to a 23-year-old man. Apparently, the man tried to put out the spreading flames by stomping on the burning materials and by placing towels over the flames to smother them. As a result, the victim suffered second degree burns and third degree burns to his hands and feet. He was flown to the Vanderbilt Burn Center in Nashville for more advanced treatment. The victim might need a skin graft to fully heal his burn wounds.
A neighbor said that the man, who was alone in the house at the time of the fire, was using the fireplace to stay warm. "When fire crews got to the house, the victim was outside already," said the local fire chief. "He had apparently made an attempt to put the flames out before they got out of control. That's usually when you suffer burns to your hands and feet."
Firefighters attended to the victim, and started a defensive attack to keep the fire from spreading to houses next door. But the fire became so intense that a neighbor's home, including the roof and siding, was damaged by the heat. In addition to the victim's house being destroyed, there is now the possibility that the burn victim has legal liability for damages inflicted upon the adjacent house.
The victim told firefighters that he had started a fire in the fireplace in the late evening, before going to bed, and left the fire burning.
There are a few important lessons to learn from this incident:
First, it is very dangerous to leave a fire unattended! The same goes for candles and food that is cooking. You should NOT leave any room using fire or a flame for more than a few seconds.
Second, if a fire starts in your home, do NOT try to put it out yourself unless it is small AND only if you use a fire extinguisher. Getting close to a fire with your hands and feet is very dangerous, and even your clothes could catch fire, which can kill you before you can perform the "stop, drop and roll" procedure.
Third, remember that three out of every four people who die in a fire suffer smoke inhalation rather than severe burns. It takes only one or two breaths of fire smoke, which is contaminated with poisonous carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, to make a person unconscious, and thus unable to escape the fire.
If a fire starts in your home and no fire extinguisher is available, you should immediately yell "fire!" to all other people in the house so that they know they must evacuate, and you should then get yourself out of the house as quickly as possible. Once outside, you should call 911 or the fire department and give them the address of the house. Do NOT go back into the house under any circumstances!
If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.