Everybody likes cooking out, but this fun family activity resulted in 8,600 house fires last year. A 2013 National Fire Protection Association report on cooking equipment fires found that 7,200 home fires involved gas grills, while another 1,400 involved solid-fuel or charcoal grills. More than half of these fires were caused by using grills too close to structures. Almost a third (29 percent) started on an open porch or exterior balcony, another 27 percent began on a patio, terrace or in a courtyard. “Position the grill an open area away from the structure, on level ground and steady,” notes Ernest Grant, RN, MSN, FAAN, outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Make sure there is nothing above the grill—eaves, trees, etc.—that could be ignited by sparks or exposure to heat. And keep a hose, water bucket or fire extinguisher nearby to quickly dowse fires.” If you can’t quickly put out the fire, go to a safe area and call 9-1-1.
How to Avoid Grill-Related Burns and Fires
Everybody loves a cookout. Here are some tips from the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center to help you grill safely.
“Unattended cooking is a major cause of cooking-related house fires, and one that is easily prevented,” says Grant. Rule number one of grilling is never leave the grill unattended. He also suggests you:
- Set up the grill on level ground in an open area away from structures, trees, shrubs and grasses.
- Keep a phone handy in case of emergency, along with a hose, bucket of water or fire extinguisher to extinguish fires.
- Establish a safety zone around the grill to exclude kids and pets from the area.
- Don’t grill when consuming alcoholic beverages or taking medication that makes you drowsy.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing or elaborately decorated aprons that might get caught in flames.
- Use only utensils rated for use over high-heat and open flame, including fire-resistant grill mitts.
- Only use propane or gas grills outdoors.
- Review gas grill operating instructions each year.
- Check propane hoses for leaks or breaks (the leading cause of gas grill malfunctions), and make sure charcoal grill pans don’t have any holes.
- If you smell gas when grilling, move away immediately and call 9-1-1.
- Never add starter fluid or any other flammable liquid to flames or glowing coals.
- Let coals cool completely before disposing in a metal container with a lid.
Use these tips to make every cookout a safe one.
How to Treat a Grilling or Fireworks-Related Burn
Nobody plans to get burned while grilling or shooting off Fourth of July fireworks, but it does happen. It may seem like overkill, but seconds count in an emergency, so keep a well-stocked first-aid kit and a water supply nearby when setting up and using grills and fireworks.
“For small burns, remove jewelry or constricting clothing and cool the affected areas with water for a minute or two,” counsels Grant. “Once it’s cooled, cover the burned area with a sterile dressing or clean, non-fluffy materials to protect it from infection. Don’t use adhesive bandages that may stick to the effected area and make it worse. Always seek medical attention for burns greater than the size of a quarter or if it is greater than the size of the victim’s palm. Do not pop blisters.” Don’t use butter, mustard or even lotions, ointments or creams. If the pain persists, or if the burn is larger than the size of a quarter, visit your doctor or local emergency room.
For larger and deeper burns, begin cooling the burn while someone calls 9-1-1. Remove clothing and jewelry and make the individual as comfortable as possible. Cover the burn with a clean dressing and await the arrival of the EMS personnel. “The same rules apply as with a smaller burn,” Grant notes, “but don’t administer any pain medications, even over the counter products with a large burn.” These medications may affect blood flow and other functions that naturally help the body respond to the burn.
“When in doubt,” Grant cautions, “see a doctor immediately. Burn and blast injuries are often permanent, so proper medical care from the beginning is critical.”
Important Statistics about Fireworks Injuries and Property Damage
There’s a reason you see the fire department and other specially trained people supervising those big fireworks displays: They’re dangerous. But even shooting off celebratory explosives in your front yard can end badly. Each year, between 8,500 and 9,800 people are injured in fireworks-related injuries—and 89 percent of those are from consumer-grade products, including sparklers. These devices resulted in 17,800 reported fires in 2011 (the most recent year available), causing $32 million in direct property damage. (All data: National Fire Protection Association) That’s why it’s always best to leave the celebratory pyrotechnics to professionals. “The best and safest thing to do is to go to the public fireworks displays,” says Grant.
Sparklers Are More Dangerous than You Think
Many of us think sparklers are the least dangerous of the Independence Day pyrotechnics. They don’t blow up and they come with a handle. How much damage can they do? A lot, as it turns out. “Sparklers throw off showers of hot sparks may have a temperature that exceeds 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit,” explains Grant. “They’re also dangerous because individuals usually hold them in their hands or attempt to re-ignite them if they fail to light the first time.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, sparklers are the leading cause of fireworks related injuries (24 percent), just higher than reloadable shells (20 percent) and small firecrackers (14 percent). “The most common injury is to hands and fingers, and the face,” Grant says. NFPA data show that 61 percent of injuries occur to these extremities, and 34 percent and the head, including the eyes. If you must use sparklers, Grants advises keeping them out of the hands of young children. “Never relight a sparkler or firework that doesn’t ignite the first time,” he adds. “Keep a bucket of water or the garden hose nearby in case sparks ignite ground cover, furnishings or structures.”
How to Avoid Fireworks-Related Fires
Even if it’s recently rained, fireworks burn hot enough to ignite even damp ground cover and structures. That’s why fire and burn prevention professionals encourage everyone to leave Fourth of July pyrotechnics to professionals. But if you must exercise your own independence by creating your own celebration, follow these fire prevention tips from the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center.
Keep a garden hose, fire extinguisher and/or bucket of water nearby to quickly respond to fires.
- Set off fireworks in wide, open areas away from trees and structures.
- Do not ignite fireworks inside structures, on porches, or on or near dry grass or leaves.
- Avoid using fireworks on windy days so sparks don’t carry.
- Never point fireworks at structures, trees or anything else flammable.
- Keep children and pets away from ignition area.
Follow these tips to have a safe and happy Independence Day!
All graphics by Max Englund/UNC Medical Center News Office.