Illustration of father, mother and child by fireplace at Christmas time and a woman puttin logs in a traditional stove.
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A few ounces of prevention mean tons of safety in the kitchen, home this winter

Published on Monday, December 18, 2023

By: Danny Barrett Jr.,

With the return of chilly nights this month in much of Mississippi, it’s time to remember some fire safety tips as residents turn on and keep their central and space heaters running.

Juvonda Hodge

“People need to be mindful of space heaters when it comes to children and those with circulation problems,” said Dr. Juvonda Hodge, medical director of the Burn Center at UMMC. “Even minimal exposure time can produce serious burns.”

Hodge recommends prompt attention from an Emergency Department when it comes to assisting someone with any type of significant burn injury.

“Until help arrives, it’s vital to ensure the patient is away from flames or the source of the burn, do an assessment of the ABCs – Airway, Breathing and Circulation – and cover injured areas with dry dressing,” Hodge said.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, burns and fires resulted in more than 70,000 emergency room visits a year in children up to 19 years old, as of 2020. Most injuries reported involved cooking space heaters and fireplaces.

Erinn Funches

“As we experience seasonally cold temperatures this winter, especially at night, please be mindful of fireplaces while younger children are present,” said Erinn Funches, safety and community outreach manager at Children’s of Mississippi. “The glass on a gas fireplace can reach 500 degrees. Younger children have slower reflexes and can’t always move their hand away quickly when they touch something hot.”

Funches said family gatherings, festive foods and cozying up to heat sources in general means the need for oven safety. Keep children at least three feet away from the front of the stove, she said, and, if feasible, cook on the back burner so children can’t reach handles on pots.

“Engage older children by teaching them how to cook safely. Instruct them to use mitts and pot holders to remove items from the stove and teach them how to use a microwave properly,” Funches said.

For less serious burns, it’s best to:

  • Clean the affected area with cool, but not cold, water
  • Remove any tight items near the burn, such as rings
  • Apply an ointment to the area, preferably a triple-antibiotic
  • Cover with a clean bandage
  • If necessary, use an over-the-counter pain reliever as directed

The State Fire Marshal’s Office offers a full list of essential tips to keep in mind once temperatures reach traditional lows in January and February:

  • All heating equipment should be UL® approved and cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional prior to being used each year.
  • Inspect the space heater’s power cord for damage, fraying or heat. If the cord inspection reveals any of these issues, the heater should be replaced. Proper cleaning is essential and should be done regularly.
  • Never use space heaters while you sleep or in areas where children may be without adult supervision.
  • Do not leave space heaters on when you are away from home.
  • Always unplug space heaters when they are not in use. The heater should also be equipped with a tip over shut‐off switch.
  • Never use a stove or oven to heat living spaces. Kerosene is a poor choice for heating as it will give off poisonous fumes.
  • Have chimney flues cleaned and inspected by qualified personnel.
  • Have a spark screen that is age appropriate for all individuals if using a fireplace.
  • Burn only approved materials in a fireplace or wood‐burning stove. Never burn paper or trash in a fireplace or wood burning stove.
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button. Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
  • Smoke alarms should be placed in every sleeping area and common hallways and on every level of the home.
  • Should a fire break out in the home, have an emergency evacuation plan for the family to follow and have a designated meeting place for all family members.
  • Once everyone is outside the burning home, call 911 and don’t go back inside the home under any circumstances.