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Summer Recreational Activities Put Families at High Risk for Burns

Local Teen Learns of Risks First-Hand

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The most unfortunate thing about this accident is that it could have been avoided, as with many other burns that occur in the summer.

Ned Ralston, a 19-year-old from Endicott, NY, is someone who knows the importance of fire safety--- but he wishes he had learned a different way.              

“I had no idea what I was in for,” says Ned, referring to the source of his knowledge, the burns he acquired on his legs, arms and face from trying to jump over a bonfire. 

Like many others this time of year, Ned attended a graduation party where there was drinking and a bonfire.  When he was first dared to jump over the fire, he didn’t think it was a big deal.  After not making it over the fire, he knows differently.

Ned sustained second and third degree burns on 21 percent of his body, including his arms, legs, and face.  His eyelashes were melted together, and his lips and right ear were also severely burned.

After the injury occurred, Ned was taken to his home, where his mother immediately called 911.  Already in shock by that point, Ned was rushed to Wilson Memorial Hospital, where it was determined he needed to be transferred to a facility specializing in the care and treatment of burns.  Ned was then airlifted to the Strong Regional Burn Center in Rochester, New York, where he stayed for about three weeks, healing and going through burn treatments such as skin grafting.

“I know now what a bad decision I made and how awful it is to be burned.  I want my story to be a lesson to those who don’t think that fooling around by the fire is a big risk, or a big deal,” says Ned.  “It is.”

State-of-the-art Treatment

One aspect of Ned’s treatment was the Wound-VAC, or vacuum assisted closure, procedure. The new technology for burn victims “vacuum seals” a sponge to the skin-grafted areas to eliminate movement so they can heal properly, while still allowing the patient to be mobile.  The old dressings were bulky and did not allow a patient to move for the five-day period the grafting took to heal.

Even with the newest and best technology, burn treatment remains painful.  Ned says the skin grafting that was done on the majority of his third degree burns was just as painful as the burns themselves.

There are also lasting effects, such as sensitivity to cold for life and discoloration of the skin in the areas that sustain third degree burns.

“The most unfortunate thing about this accident is that it could have been avoided, as with many other burns that occur in the summer,” says Christopher Lentz, M.D., director of the Strong Regional Burn Center. 

Other common culprits of burns most prevalent in the summer months are grills, fireworks and campfires.  More than half of the 11,000 injuries that occur every year from fireworks and grill fires happen within the first week of July, according to the National Fire Data Center. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that children who are 14 and under account for about 4,700 of these injuries.

According to Lentz, most of these injuries, including Ned’s, are easy to prevent.

"Being aware of potential hazards and following a few safety tips can ensure that everyone has fun and no one is hurt," says Lentz.

Here are some tips from Lentz on how to practice summer safety and steer clear of burns:

  • Take precautions starting charcoal grills: Use charcoal starter fuel---never gasoline. Make sure that coals are not warm or hot when starting the grill. Once the coals are soaked with fluid, allow a minute for the vapors to dissipate before lighting the coals; these vapors easily ignite.
  • Check grill for leaks before cooking: Prior to using a gas grill, check all connections from the fuel source to the grill for leaks. After turning the valve of the fuel source on, spray soapy water at the connections and watch for bubbles, which indicate there is a leak. If there is a leak, shut the valve off, and then tighten the connections, or have a professional check the grill.
  • Keep fireworks out of children's hands! In New York State, seemingly harmless fireworks such as sparklers, firecrackers and bottle rockets not only are illegal, but are responsible for more than two thirds of fireworks-related injuries. Sparklers cause the lion share of these injuries. Among children under five, sparklers account for three-quarters of all fireworks-related injuries. When lit, sparklers can reach dangerously hot temperature levels--1800 °F or more, and may burn even when extinguished.
  • Selecting a spot for a fire: Build the campfire downwind and far away from the tent. When possible, use the designated fire pit. Once a good spot has been selected, clear a 3 foot area free of leaves, dry grass, and pine needles. Be sure to clear the area around grills and tents.
  • Alcohol and campfires don't mix: The majority of campfire burns are associated with alcohol use, so it is best to avoid drinking when there is a campfire burning.

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